I would highly recommend that students try BOTH the SAT and ACT. While both tests are accepted by colleges everywhere some students find that they prefer one test over another. Why not focus on your strengths? However, you can only know for sure where your strengths are by taking them both. Once you have taken both tests, you will know whether you should focus on just one of them going forward. If your scores on both were pretty comparable, you can try both of them again.
Let’s say that you don’t want to take the time and money to explore which test is preferable – you want to pick one and stick with it. Here are some ways you can make that decision.
- Look at your PSAT and Pre-ACT scores. The PSAT corresponds to the SAT, and the Pre-ACT corresponds to the ACT. Most students take the PSAT as juniors, and most take the Pre-ACT as sophomores. The easiest way to compare them is to look at the percentiles that you earned on each test. If, for example, if you have an 80thpercentile on the PSAT and a 65thpercentile on the Pre-ACT, it would probably make more sense to focus your efforts on the SAT. If the percentiles are comparable, you should probably do both the ACT and SAT at least once.
- Do you qualify for extended time? If so, I would recommend focusing on the ACT. In my tutoring experience, students who have extended time tend to find the ACT easier than the SAT. Students find this to be the case because the questions and passages on the ACT tend to be a bit more straight-forward and less “outside-the-box”, making them much more doable for students who have more time to process them. Much of the coaching I do for students with the ACT is with respect to timing, and if you have extended time on the ACT, you can focus much more on your critical thinking process rather than on how quickly you are doing things.
- Do you struggle with timing? You should almost certainly focus on the SAT. The ACT Math, Reading and Science are all pretty tough for students to finish. In my experience, few students have difficulty finishing the SAT.
- Do you have test anxiety? If so, the SAT may be a better fit because the questions go in order from easiest to hardest on almost every section, so it is much less likely that you will become stuck on a tough question. Also, you won’t have to worry about time as much.
- What is the Superscoring Policy of the College you Most Want to Attend? Most colleges will superscore the SAT, which means they will take the best score from each section of the test over several test dates. A few colleges superscore the ACT. If you are applying to a college that DOES superscore the ACT, you may want to be more open to taking the ACT because you will have more opportunities to earn a solid score. If the college only superscores the SAT and you tend to be somewhat inconsistent in your performance on test day, the SAT may be a better fit for you.
Yep, it’s that time of year! Requests for essay help are flooding in! As students sit down to write their college essay their primary question is generally “what do colleges want” or maybe “what can I say to make colleges want me”. This mindset is one of the biggest mistakes that students make as they carefully craft their essays. Students should keep in mind that the essay is really just the cherry on top of the ice cream sundae of their application (shout out to At the Core for this awesome metaphor). In other words, a lot of other things- GPA, test scores, class rigor- are more important. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t work hard on your essay, but rather I’m pointing out that the schools you’re applying to already know exactly how academically gifted you are; don’t try to blow them away by sounding like a college professor!
In addition to thesaurus writing, many essays show up on my desk looking like the student wrote them with a crown on their heads. Students try to sound like they are enlightened, like their life experiences have made them better than every other candidate. Scores of essays talk about experiences that made students want to help humanity, tons of essays discuss the student’s experiences with people less fortunate, boat loads of essays loft the student up to make it seem like they are the best thing since sliced break. Maybe they are. However, when a reader has read 500 essays just like that it starts to get old. Not every one of those people can possibly be as amazing as they say. So one essay about volunteering at a soup kitchen blends into the next about working with low income children blends into another about a mission trip to a third world country. It all sounds the same eventually and it all sounds disingenuous.
By now you’re probably despairing that the experience you wanted to write your essay about won’t work. Here is the trick though. You can write about anything- anything at all. If that trip to a poverty stricken country really changed your life then write about it, but stop thinking about what colleges want to hear and start thinking instead about what you want to say. This is the one chance that you have to show colleges something that isn’t on your application somewhere else. If you don’t have a life changing experience that’s okay! Students can write about small things that show who they are. One essay I read was about a young man who grew strawberries in his locker. It didn’t change the world; in fact, all it did was give him a few strawberries. But it allowed him to show who he was: a creative young man, willing to put in some work in order to try something new for little reward. Who wouldn’t want that kind of person around?
We’re all amazing people. There are very few students around who don’t want to help the world. Focus instead on what makes you unique, on what you’ll bring to the college, on something that shows who you are. Stop trying to be more than yourself. Just do you; it’s enough