{Please click to subscribe to receive first notice of all posts!}

SAT and ACT - Why these tests matter

Background image source

Yesterday we talked about the importance of good grades for high school students, and while forgoing a part-time job to devote more time to schoolwork could “earn” your student more money in scholarship than a job could ever pay outright.

If you find yourself saying or thinking that your child does well in school but not on standardized tests, you’re in good company; it’s how we felt and what we overheard time and time again by friends and family.  But it may or may not be true; that feeling might be based on comparing your student’s scores to those test superstars in your sphere who do freakishly well, or compared against the elusive perfect scores.

Stop the comparison game. Now. It doesn’t serve anyone, and in fact, defeats and demoralizes our children.

Instead, sow optimism and expectation.


Set a favorable stage for prep before and day-of testing.

  • Express empathy for your child. They need to know you understand how hard it is!
  • Be her biggest cheerleader. We all need to know someone is on our side and thinks we’re smart and capable. When you believe your child can take the test and do well, he’ll believe it (or at least hope it true), too.
  • Study and practice.  While it’s impossible to cover every concept covered on either the ACT or SAT, becoming familiar with test formats makes a difference. It won’t be new day of the exam. Knowing what to expect before your children receive their test reduces the amount of time required to get into the rhythm of taking the test.
  • Require an early curfew the night before test taking. I don’t care what’s going on the night before testing, your child needs a decent night’s sleep.
  • Cook a healthy breakfast the morning of testing. No sugared cereals, PLEASE, for your kid’s sake! Even if you never cook breakfast, make this your special tradition on ACT/SAT test morning. Go high protein with a side of fruit, something with staying power.
  • Have everything he needs for test day ready the night before. Print their ticket for entry, sharpen pencils, check calculator batteries and make sure ID is handy. It will derail him before he leaves the house if he’s frantic and looking for these things the morning of.


SAT or ACT: Which one is best?

The ACT website explains the main difference between the two tests:

The ACT is an achievement test, measuring what a student has learned in school. The SAT is more of an aptitude test, testing reasoning and verbal abilities.

Also, you’re penalized for wrong guesses on the SAT but ACT scores are based on the number of right answers. It won’t hurt your student to guess, AND not only will it not hurt their score, right answers will help.

As I mentioned in my intro post, I have two in college and one on the way; the following we’ve found to be true in our personal experience, but also in talking to countless others.

Take both tests.  It’s fair to assume your child is geared to do better on one of the two types of tests; you really won’t know until after you receive the scores.

Re-test. Studies suggest an increase in test scores for the majority of test-takers, particularly the lower the score the first time around. If you’re satisfied with your score, especially if it merits scholarship for your student and the next benchmark is substantially higher, once might be enough.

Get help. Many schools offering classes or tutors for standardized testing. Take advantage of what’s available. There are plenty of online helps as well, certainly a good option if choices are limited in your area. Instructors can provide tips and hints that could prove invaluable to your child in testing, plus the added bonus on familiarity.


Especially for seniors


By now you’re likely narrowing your choices for college selection. It is crucial for you to know both your state’s and your college’s parameters for scholarship assistance.

A one point increase on your ACT can mean thousands saved in tuition! And if you’re close to “next level” on the SAT, it is absolutely worth re-testing again to get there. 

There is enormous variance among colleges for merit-based assistance, so please do your homework and find out how you might benefit from the colleges on your short list.


A Comparison between the SAT and ACT


As summarized by the Princeton Review:

  • ACT questions tend to be more straightforward.
  • The SAT has a stronger emphasis on vocabulary.
  • The ACT has a Science section, while the SAT does not.
  • The ACT tests more advanced math concepts.
  • The ACT Writing Test is optional on test day, but required by many schools.
  • The SAT is broken up into more sections.
  • The ACT is more of a “big picture” exam.(Source with additional explanation.)


Study Point has a fantastic chart for comparing basics:

Comparison of ACT & SAT by Study Point

ACT & SAT Comparison


Resources for purchase


A reminder: Over the weekend I’ll share some of my favorite 31 Days series as well as some of my favorite finds on the internets recently. We’ll be back on Monday with our next tip, so please stay tuned–we’re going to be talking about dream-casting.

Also? Please share your questions and what you hope we’ll cover over the next almost four weeks! I’m still writing my series and your comments help me focus on addressing what is valuable to YOU.  And DO share with others who might benefit for reading this series!

Thanks for subscribing if you haven’t already!!


Helpful Hints and Tips for College Bound Students by Robin Dance

Pin It on Pinterest