You've probably been haunted by tales of the almighty SAT and ACT since middle school. But how much of what you've heard about these tests is actually true? We spoke to Dr. Bari Norman, CEP, who is the head counselor at Expert Admissions, to get to the bottom of several common myths that have been floating around for years.
Myth 1: Colleges in Certain Regions Prefer the SAT Over the ACT
This myth comes from over 25 years ago when the ACT was considered more of a regional exam that was popular in the Midwest, Norman says. However, this didn't mean colleges preferred one test over the other, but that students in certain regions seemed to gravitate toward one of the tests. But those days are long gone. Colleges truly don't have any preference.
"It's not one-size-fits-all with these tests," Norman notes. "The best test to take is the one you'll do better on or the one you find more manageable to prep for. There are concordance tables for the ACT and SAT, but I don't recommend students rely solely on those. Admissions offices have their own way of looking at standardized test scores, and I don't always find that they necessarily match up with those tables."
It's best to speak with a knowledgeable counselor, and ask for feedback on the comparison between your SAT and ACT scores -- assuming you've taken diagnostics of both tests, Norman advises. "As dreadful as it might sound, you really should take full-length tests as your practice exams, not abbreviated hybrid exams. From there, pick the test that's best for you and focus your prep accordingly."
Myth 2: You Should Focus Only on One Test and Not Try the Other
Even if you have an inclination toward one test, you should try both the ACT and the SAT, Norman says. "If you don't take diagnostics of each, how else will you know which one is truly better for you?" Also, Norman adds, when you take a diagnostic test, you need a knowledgeable tutor to analyze your score. "Don't just take it at face value. It's not just about comparing the scores on a diagnostic SAT and a diagnostic ACT, seeing which is higher and going with that test." You may have a slightly higher score on one test, but when the tutor looks at which kinds of questions you got wrong, they can help you decide several important things:
- Which test do can you "grow into" better?
- Are the things you missed on the SAT more coachable than the things you missed on the ACT?
- Was your lower score on the ACT purely an issue of timing, or was it something more substantive?
After you have that feedback in-hand, you can thoughtfully choose which test is best for you. That said, if you decide to study for both, expect to put in about 15 percent additional prep time per week.
However, you should know your options: Don't forget that there are more than a thousand colleges that are test-optional, and that number continues to grow every year. "There are also schools that are test-flexible – like NYU, Hamilton and Middlebury – which allow you to submit scores from other standardized tests, such as Subject Tests and APs, in lieu of the SAT or ACT," Norman adds.
Myth 3: Anyone With A 504 Plan Will Get Accommodations
"I've seen many students denied accommodations, even with a 504 or IEP in place," Norman notes. To obtain accommodations, you need to show a "functional limitation" in academic achievement, behavior, mood, and/or adaptive functioning. Accommodations must also be regularly used in the classroom, and you'll also want to submit a recent psychoeducational or neuropsychological evaluation, if possible. These evaluations are often helpful to document difficulties and the need for accommodations.
Be sure to work with a psychologist who is highly experienced in the process of applying for accommodations on the SAT or ACT. There's a formal and somewhat lengthy process for requesting accommodations, and you must request from The College Board (for SAT, Subject Tests and APs) and ACT separately.
"Make sure to leave plenty of time to not only apply for accommodations, but also to potentially appeal the decision if you receive a denial," Norman adds. "There is a formal appeals process, and I've had students successfully get their initial decisions overturned."
It can be a good idea to begin the process of requesting accommodations in ninth or tenth grade. That way, you're never feeling crunched for time. "Also, if you're set with your accommodations early on, you can tailor your test prep accordingly," Norman says. "You don't want to prep on the assumption that you will be granted extra time, only to be denied that accommodation in the end."
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