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Old SAT, New SAT, Regular ACT… Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

I’m going to start right off by telling every senior and junior who has put in study time for the SAT to take that SAT before January 2016! Just do it. For those of you who cannot take the test that early, my best advice is to start studying this summer for the ACT and to get that test down to an art form. The new SAT, being previewed in March, 2016 is going to be brutal for students who haven’t had a couple of years to train for the exam. Therefore, the smart move for 2017 and even 2018 graduates is to take the ACT if you don’t feel ready to give the present SAT a shot (and surprisingly, many juniors, and even some forward-looking and well-prepared sophomores, are planning ahead to take the old SAT in November or December of 2015).

Remember that you do not want to be the lab rat for a new exam that will be in the process of defining itself for the first few years in which it is given. Stick with the ACT which is a known entity, and has plentiful review materials and numerous expert tutors in the field to help you through any tough spots. There is no reason to take an SAT after January, 2016, as the ACT is accepted in Admissions to the same extent as is the SAT; and it will take Admissions a couple of years to figure out how to correlate scores on the new SAT with student achievement. Always go with what you know.

Just a couple of words about the ACT/SAT differences.

  • Because the ACT is more material and achievement oriented (with the SAT being more of a critical analysis/reasoning skill/aptitude exam), many students feel more comfortable taking the exam. But do make note of what is required of you in the science section: There are three basic question types: data interpretation, research summaries, and conflicting viewpoints. The official ACT website insists that “Advanced knowledge in these subjects is not required, but background knowledge acquired in general, introductory science courses is needed…”
  • Some students prefer one test over the other based on the way the test deals with wrong answers. On the 2015 SAT, students are penalized for incorrect responses. On the ACT, students are not penalized if they guess incorrectly, and the score rests on the number of correct responses only.
  • Students always ask which exam has more difficult questions. The answer is, it really depends on how you test. That’s why, before you decide on which exam to take, you should spend some time with practice sections from review books on each. You’ll know after a few days of studying which test comes more naturally to you. What you might want to know more about is the arrangement of difficult questions on each exam. The SAT questions become increasingly difficult as one moves through each section. The ACT questions are totally random in their order of difficulty.
  • The ACT actually tests the same math as the SAT but also includes trigonometry and plane geometry.

BUT, you ask, what if my child is a math whiz who is never happier than when figuring out complex problems? The answer is—your child might be the exception who actually should give the new SAT a try. The ACT is, to date, still divided into four sub-tests—two in math and two in the sciences (with the science segment involving almost 50% mathematics). So, where the ACT’s composite score comprises approximately 3/8 mathematics, the new SAT allocates approximately half of its composite score to mathematics.

Now for a few examples of the new SAT question type, brought to you by the College Board:

Again, my message is clear: if you can take the old SAT before January 2016, do it—especially if you have already begun prep for the test. Anyone in the 2018 class—plan to prepare for the ACT, and give yourself at least three months of intensive practice on material and full-test taking skills before sitting for the actual exam.

Additionally, please note that, should you choose to take the new SAT in March of 2016, you will not receive your scores for probably two months. All growing pains, and all good reasons not to take the test in 2016 or 2017!

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