SAT or ACT or Both: common mistakes we see too often

Matt Larriva
Apr 10, 2020

Should I take the SAT or ACT? How about both! We hear terrible advice like this all the time. In our long and storied history, we see the same 5 misconceptions surface over and over. Sometimes they’re innocuous enough, but other times, they’re egregious. Here’s our attempt at stopping the madness:

I want to take the test with no prep, just to see where I am

This is like saying, I want to try skydiving without a parachute, just to see how I land. Your SAT and ACT scores get integrated into your permanent record, such that every school you apply to will see all your scores. There’s no reason to show them that you were in the 52nd percentile when you were a sophomore. You can’t explain to them that you “just wanted to see where you were.” If you’re curious about your starting score, come to one of our proctored practice tests, or take an at-home practice test. There’s no reason to have anything less than an excellent score on your permanent record.

I have to take/focus on/prep for the PSAT

The PSAT doesn’t matter. There…we said it. Students take the PSAT because 1) they want to see how they’ll do on the SAT or because 2) they want to qualify for National Merritt Scholarships. The best way to see how you’ll do on the SAT is by taking a full-length practice SAT, not by taking an abbreviated PSAT. Regarding National Merritt: only one half of one percent of test takers will achieve National Merritt. If you are not already testing in the top 99.5% on your standardized tests, then you do not need to stress yourself over the NMSQT. Read our post for a more in-depth discussion.

Instead of choosing the SAT or ACT, I should prep for both!

This is the most detrimental of misconceptions. By splitting your efforts among two tests, you are ensuring yourself two mediocre successes instead of one stellar success. Prepping for both tests is like trying to read two books at the same time…and the books are written in different languages….and they’re on fire. Choose one and stick with it, and given the shifting SAT landscape, we’d recommend your choice be the ACT.

Some schools only accept the SAT or ACT, not both

We have never seen, encountered, or heard of a school that only accepts one test. Some students fear that schools prefer one test over the other, when in reality, most major schools are test-blind. They look only at your percentile, not your test, in an effort to eliminate potential bias.

I should allocate more time to school work than test prep

One of the most painful things to see is students who don’t reach their fullest potential on their standardized tests, because they spend too much time doing homework. Don’t get us wrong: grades are important, but spending all your time maintaining your 4.0 while your ACT stays stuck at 27 is far less valuable than if you let your GPA slip to a 3.8 and your ACT skyrockets to 32. It’s a trade off, one grade point change (going from 3.8 to 3.9) is far less valuable than going from 28 to 31, but they probably take the same amount of time. Read our post for a more in-depth discussion.

With those myths dispelled, we wish everyone a happy and healthy holiday season.