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Clearing Up Common SAT and ACT Myths

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Taking the SAT and/or ACT is a significant step in a high school student’s college-planning journey. The importance of earning a satisfactory score is heavily stressed to teenagers early on, as many colleges use this metric as a major determining factor in the admissions process. The notoriety surrounding these tests has caused a plethora of misconceptions and myths that continue to circulate in high schools and beyond. Receiving accurate information is a vital factor when it comes to students deciding which test to take as well as shaping effective test prep strategies, but it can sometimes be confusing to identify which information is fact and which is fantasy.

If you’re a high school student who wants to separate SAT/ACT myths from reality, here are a few common misconceptions to be aware of: 

Myth #1: The Surge of Test-Optional Colleges Means SAT/ACT Scores Don’t Matter 

The Covid-19 pandemic has led many colleges around the country to become test-optional, and this has created a false sense of understanding among students that admissions agents don’t take SAT/ACT scores into consideration at all. The truth is that many schools do still require test scores, and among the ones that don’t, many of them will still take a student’s SAT/ACT performance into consideration if that student submits his/her score.  

There are many reasons why taking the SAT/ACT is still advantageous. When an admissions agent is looking at a pool of applicants with similar GPAs, volunteer experience, etc., a student who also has an impressive test score will be more likely to stand out. Additionally, a high score can help balance out areas on a student’s application that may not be the strongest, such as a lower GPA. 

Another major benefit of taking the SAT/ACT is that a high score has the potential to net a student significant funds in scholarship money. Students are awarded merit-based scholarships every year, and some of these awards are based entirely on an SAT/ACT score alone. 

Myth #2: Guessing Is a Poor Strategy When Uncertain of the Answer

Before the SAT was revamped in 2016, students were penalized ¼ of a point for every wrong answer, while blank answers were not penalized. In modern times, however, neither the SAT nor the ACT penalizes students for wrong answers, but the myth of the outdated guessing penalty continues to live on. Because of this, students are sometimes ill-advised that it’s better to leave a question blank than to guess incorrectly. 

The truth is that a blank answer and an incorrect answer are both worth zero points, so making a best guess will always be a student’s best bet. Whether the student is fairly certain that he/she knows which bubble to fill in or the guess is completely random, the advantage of possibly choosing the correct choice far outweighs any benefit of leaving an answer blank. 

Myth #3: Colleges Prefer Students Take One Test Over the Other

While some states mandate that high school students take either the SAT or the ACT, colleges don’t have a preference for which test score students submit with their applications. Both tests are universally accepted by schools around the country, so a high score on the SAT will appear just as favorable as a high score on the ACT. This can be a relief for students who may be more likely to excel on one versus the other. 

Myth #4: The ACT and the SAT Are Identical 

As mentioned above, colleges don’t have a preference between whether students take the ACT or the SAT, but that doesn’t mean that the tests themselves are identical. They each cover similar material, but there are some differences that make them distinct from one another. Students can look at these differences to help them consider whether one test may play better to their individual strengths. Considering how scores are important to the college admissions process and have the potential to open up scholarship opportunities, students can benefit from taking the test that is likely to result in an ideal performance. 

Here are a few of the main differences between the SAT and the ACT:

  • For students who struggle with time management, the SAT may offer a slight advantage. The SAT has fewer questions to complete in a slightly longer amount of time. Specifically, the SAT consists of 154 questions and lasts 3 hours, while the ACT consists of 215 questions and lasts 2 hours and 55 minutes.
  • For students who struggle with math, the ACT may be more appealing. The ACT is scored on four different sections, and math is one of them. The SAT is divided into only two sections (with math being one of them). This means that the math section will contribute significantly to the overall score. Additionally, students are able to use a calculator on the entire math portion of the ACT, while they are only allowed to use a calculator on part of the SAT’s math section. Lastly, the SAT has some multiple-choice math questions and some fill-in-the-blank style questions, while the ACT math section consists of only multiple-choice questions. 
  • However, if a student has difficulty with verbal and comprehension-based skills, the SAT may be preferable. The ACT is scored heavily on reading and interpreting passages and data in the English, reading, and science sections. 

Myth #5: Students with High Grades Can Forego Test Prep

While students who excel in the subjects covered by the SAT and ACT are at an advantage, they will still be far better off if they take time to prepare for their tests. A large part of doing well on the SAT/ACT is mastering the concepts, but success also comes down to learning test-taking strategies specific to the test format. High grades in school don’t always translate seamlessly to ideal scores on the SAT/ACT. Effective preparation focuses on mastering the material and adjusting to the test structure. 

Closing Up

High school students often feel daunted by the prospect of taking the SAT and/or ACT. There is quite a bit of pressure to do well, but the amount of misinformation surrounding these tests can make it difficult to prepare for them in the most advantageous manner. Hopefully clearing up these common SAT/ACT myths helps you separate fact from fiction, so you can feel more knowledgeable about what to expect when it comes to preparing for and taking your test. Good luck!

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