B.R. of Old Westbury, NY writes:

Simple question. Should my child take the ACT or the SAT? Which do colleges prefer?

The College Whisperer responds:

If only the answers were that simple.

I remember, way back when in elementary school in Bayside, New York, having to take a standardized exam known as the Iowa Test, leaving me to wonder whether students in Iowa were, at the same time, taking New York Tests.

We've gone from way too much testing, and unfounded reliance thereon, to teaching solely to the test, for the test, and by the test. So much so that the mere mention of SAT (which used to stand for Scholastic Achievement Test, but now professes to be a Scholastic Aptitude Test, the former said to demonstrate what you've learned, while the latter showing what you're capable of learning. The tests, in both cases, falling woefully short of the intended objective) strikes fear in the hearts of students and parents alike. Many of us still experience the flashbacks. I forgot my watch. Are these really number 2 pencils?

If The College Whisperer had his druthers (unfortunately, he hasn't had them since some time in 1978 ;-), every student in America would boycott the ACTs, SATs, and every other standardized test, forcing college admission officers to accept or deny on the basis of academic performance, extracurricular activities/community service, the student's character, and that all-important personal essay.

Of course, there's always that one holdout who would take the tests, obtain perfect scores, gain acceptance to Harvard, and go on to become an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, ruining it for everyone else!

While SATs, ACTs, and other standardized exams rarely demonstrate either aptitude or proficiency as much as they do the test-taker's ability to do well on standardized tests, they are, for better or worse, here to stay. Well, here to stay as long as there is money to be made off of them by the test-makers and test-preparers, who have created a multi-billion dollar cottage industry.

In the words of the old SAT analogies, MONEY is to GREED as SAT is to COLLEGE BOARD, AMERICAN COLLEGE TESTING, or all of the above.

But I digress.

Until a few years ago, whether one took the ACT or SAT was purely a matter of regionalization. If you lived in the northeast, you took the SAT. Period.

Today, the ACT is gaining popularity across the nation, and, though not admitted by admissions officers, has become increasingly the barometer of choice as the SAT, mostly through the shortcomings of its parent, the College Board, loses credibility as a prognosticator of college success.

Indeed, some universities have dispensed with the need for submission of any standardized test scores, though this continues to be the exception rather than the rule.

A cute portrayal of the ACT versus SAT dilemma appeared in The New York Times (ACT vs. SAT) not all that long ago, and is well worth a read here. The advice given therein is probably worth heeding.

Sign-up (and attend) free courses and workshops offered in your high school, local library, or community college (nominal fee). Take the practice exams. [This can be done online, without having to buy the books. Check out http://sat.collegeboard.com/practice and http://www.actstudent.org/sampletest/index.html.] Avail yourself of free online resources, including http://www.act.org/aap/pdf/preparing.pdf and http://sat.collegeboard.com/practice/sat-practice-test. Keep up with your studies. Read.

Then, take BOTH the SAT and the ACT (no more than twice, please), and see how you fare. Submit the better of the two scores to colleges of choice. [You will, statistically, do better the second time around, even without help from a prepatory course, this on the basis of maturation, comfort with the format and exam conditions, and the fact that you now know, more or less, what to expect.]

If you need a tutor for ACT/SAT prep (and Lord knows, we could all use a little extra help, now and then), College Connection will match you with one of the best (so you can give the folks at at those test prep giants a raspberry, rather than all of your money).

Above all. Do not stress over the ACT or SAT. Relax! It's only a test.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of The College Whisperer.
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