ACT College Test: What's the Fuss About?

In the last 10 years, the ACT College Test, or just the ACT, has been growing in popularity every year. But many parents and students only know about the SAT test and do not know there are great prep materials for the ACT as well. In fact, in my test preparation business, I often recommend students take the ACT (or at minimum an ACT practice test) over the SAT exam. 

Five Reasons to Take the ACT

Reason #1: ACT College Test Is Not Changing

The Class of 2016 has a difficult choice: should I take the old SAT early, take the new SAT, or take the ACT. My answer is strongly consider taking the ACT exam. Why? Because it is not changing. The test has a proven track record, plenty of available practice tests and materials, and lots of really good tutors that know the exam well. 

Otherwise, if you take the old SAT, you may not score as well as young juniors (last opportunity to test is January 2016). If you take the new SAT, who knows what will happen since no one has seen the test (not officially available until March 2016). So the easier path, if you do well on an ACT practice test, is to stick with the tried and true ACT College Test.

Reason #2: You Can "Hide" Scores More Easily

Unlike the SAT, the ACT test does not have an "all-score" report, so if a student takes the test 3-4 times, the students will not have to send all test scores. Because many students need to take the ACT multiple times to achieve their best scores, the ACT test has the advantage of not having to worry about colleges seeing low test scores. 

The downside, since their is no "all-scores" report, if a student wants to send test results from multiple sittings, each of these test reports will have to be paid for separately. But considering the cost of college and the competition of the the applicant pool, spending an extra $12-24 per application should not be too much of a hurdle for most families. If you feel the extra reports will be a financial burden talk to your high school counselor or the actual college first rather than not sending all of you best scores.


Reason #3: Students Like the Test Better

Because the ACT College Test seems to be more compatible with the normal high school curriculum (as oppose to the SAT), students just like the test better. It is less "tricky" and based more on actual knowledge of the subject areas than complex testing strategies. With that said, all students can benefit from high-quality ACT test preparation books and materials to achieve the highest possible score.

Often, when I meet a student with a high GPA and low PSAT or SAT score, I immediately suggest taking a practice ACT. Most of the time, those students will see a diagnostic test score 100-200 points higher than the PSAT or SAT score. As a general rule, I recommend every student take a practice test early in the junior year (or even summer before) to avoid the extra cost and energy of preparing for the SAT (when the ACT is the better choice).

Reason #4: Every College Accepts the ACT

For at least 10 years, all colleges and universities accept the ACT College Test in college admissions. There is no advantage to sending SAT scores over ACT scores. Let me say that again in a different way: colleges and universities do not prefer the SAT in college admission. 

In fact, in 2012 the ACT surpassed the SAT in number of test sittings (partly because some high school districts use the ACT as an exit exam). The ACT is hugely popular for good reason. Unfortunately, too many test prep companies have invested too heavily into the SAT and often steer students and parents away from the ACT college test. And not to repeat myself, but if you have not taken an ACT practice test, take one, and then use a conversion table to compare results.

Reason #5: No Guessing Penalty

Note: The guessing penalty is no longer an issue on the New SAT because the College Board finally figured out that it was confusing and unnecessary. But I am leaving this reason up for now, so the word gets out to more students and parents. 

What If You Don't Have a Good Score?

Before you completely panic out or get discouraged about your score results, pause, breathe, and consider all of your options. If you did not score well on the SAT, make sure you understand the differences between the ACT vs. SAT and take a practice ACT college test).  If you are really concerned that you may not have a "good score" on the SAT (and you also know about the ACT) then investigate applying to some "test optional" colleges and universities. You may be surprised to learn that over 800 colleges and universities do NOT require SAT or ACT scores for college admission if a student maintains a strong GPA.