College admissions used to be simpler. Now in addition to dealing with the daunting application process, you also have the responsibility of choosing, studying for, and taking the right admissions test. This may have you confused: how do you decide if you should take the SAT, the SAT subject tests, or the ACT?
Keeping these things in mind may help you come to a decision:
1. Decide early. You don’t want to have to cram for a major college admission test at the last minute. A good study schedule ideally begins in 9th or early 10th grade.
2. Be aware of ongoing changes. A new version of the SAT was scheduled to roll out in 2015 but has recently been pushed back to 2016 to “deliver a redesigned assessment system that best serves higher education and propels students toward success in college and work,” as College Board president David Coleman puts it. Some believe this will give the ACT time to gain more traction and overcome the SAT as the leading admissions test. The changing landscape of admissions requirements should factor into your decision.
3. Each college has different requirements. Ultimately, which test you take may depend on admissions criteria of your target universities. Find out what is required by each college you are applying to before you determine what test to take.
4. You might be stronger in one test than the others. The SAT and ACT may be similar in format but key differences like question phrasing and areas of focus can put you ahead in one test over the other. The ACT website shows that most students perform comparably on the two but if you find yourself testing better on one, concentrate your energies and study time on that test. The ACT in particular can suffer from the addition of the science subject, which can drag your overall score down.
5. Colleges look at both tests differently. You can now choose which of your scores are sent to the colleges of your choice. Before you send only your highest score, be aware that some colleges like to find your top scores in each section, regardless of when the section was taken. How colleges look at individual tests varies as well: most schools look at the SAT Verbal and Math sections separately, while they approach the ACT score as a whole instead.
Regardless of which test you choose to take, this is a decision that should be made as soon as possible, around 9th or early 10th grade. After all, what you decide will be the guiding force behind your preparation efforts.