ACT and SAT Prep
Jump straight into test prep using either link below, or scroll down to find out more about the tests, how they're different and what they're used for.
The Big Questions
1. Why do I need to take a test?
Scores from the ACT and/or SAT are a required part of most application packets to four-year colleges. If you are planning on attending another type of higher-education institution (such as a community college), call or check their admission guidelines to see if taking the test(s) will be necessary.
2. When would I need to take these?
Students take these tests BEFORE (or, at the very latest, during) their college application process. Most get better results if they take their test twice — for example, once in the spring of their junior year and again in the fall of their senior year. If you would like to take your test just once, the summer after junior year or the fall of senior year is best.
Keep in mind that you can usually submit the rest of your application early and send test scores along later, but a decision about any student's acceptance WILL NOT BE MADE until their scores are received. Always be sure to pick a test date AT LEAST two months prior to your chosen college's application deadline: scores must be received before this deadline expires, and the scoring process can take anywhere from 2-8 weeks.
3. What are these tests really used for?
Both the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) and ACT (once an acronym for 'American College Testing', now just the name) are standardized tests designed to help college admission personnel compare applicants' abilities directly. The thought was that a 'B' student applying from one high school might actually have the same abilities as an 'A' student from another school, depending on how rigorous their schools were and/or whether the 'B' student was taking harder classes. The tests would help the 'B' student by showing that they were just as qualified for college-level work as the 'A' student.
While these tests are an important part of your application, remember that they are still seen by most colleges as just one part of the whole picture (along with grades, classes taken, whether improvement was shown, teacher recommendations, extracurriculars, strength of admission essays, and so on).
4. What's the difference between the ACT and the SAT?
Loosely speaking, the ACT was designed to test you on what you've learned in school. The SAT was designed more as an aptitude test to test basic abilities (reading, writing, math). Some colleges prefer that you have results for one of these tests in particular, although most four-year colleges accept either or both.
For more insight into the differences, check out the following links:
5. Which test should I take? Does it matter?
Again, most colleges will accept either test, although it is still somewhat true that the East Coast and West Coast favor the SAT while the ACT is most often seen in the Midwest, as the ACT originated here. If you know what school(s) you'd like to apply to, take a look at whether the school has an expressed preference.
Aside from school preference, the only reason to take one test rather than the other is whether one speaks far better to your skill set (see the links above for a full explanation of the differences).
The ACT will be an especially good test for you if you excel at higher-level math, fact/rule memorization, and/or using and interpreting provided information. The ACT does not penalize for incorrect guesses, and is entirely multiple choice with an optional essay section.
The SAT rewards general verbal ability (especially vocabulary) and critical thinking skills. If you are a good speaker and reason well, but don't retain facts and technical rules very easily, the SAT may be a better test for you. It does deduct for incorrect answers, and its format is a mix of multiple choice and essay.