teaching tips blog


Sep 30, 2013

Should my teen take the SAT or ACT?

Diane Kummer

Both the SAT and ACT are recognized by the vast majority of colleges as college entrance admission tests. What are the differences between the tests and which test should your teen take? Let’s begin by providing a brief recap of each test.

The SAT is administered by the College Board and homeschoolers register directly online by choosing a test location and test date. Use the SAT homeschool code (970000) to ensure that test results are sent to your home address rather than to the school where the test was taken. 

The SAT is a reasoning test and students are asked to apply knowledge in three areas: math, reading, and a mandatory written essay. The math section includes arithmetic operations, algebra, geometry, statistics and probability. In the reading or verbal section, students are tested on sentence completions and reading comprehension. Your teen will also be asked to write a short essay and answer multiple-choice questions on identifying errors and improving grammar and usage.

The ACT tests specific subject knowledge in four areas: reading, English, math, and science.  Descriptions of each section are provided on the ACT website. It offers an optional essay writing section that many colleges prefer your teen to complete. Registration is done online at the ACT website and a students chooses his test date and location. 

When deciding which college entrance test to take, determine your strategy. Some parents like to choose just one test (either the SAT or ACT), and have their teens prepare specifically for that test using test prep materials. The College Board and ACT offer many test prep resources.

I suggest having your teen take the SAT or ACT at least twice since scores almost always rise the second time. Some teens like to compete against themselves by seeking to improve their scores each time they take the test.

Instead of taking just one of the tests, some parents deem it beneficial to have their teens take both tests. A friend of mine had her daughters take both tests and they scored much higher on the ACT than they did on the SAT. You never know until you try!

The Princeton Review offers some suggestions and also sells a book to help parents ascertain which test their teens may score higher on. The Kaplan Prep website provides a detailed comparison of the two tests. 

Petersen’s website also offers some tips to help you determine which test may be best for your teen to take. 

I hope these resources help you when deciding which test your teen will take.