SAT vs ACT: Should I Switch Tests?

SAT vs ACT: Should I Switch Tests?

Once a student has chosen which test to take, it’s not uncommon that he or she will feel good about that decision for the first month or two, while learning cool techniques and strategies and brushing up on a few academic subjects. But once he starts taking practice tests - which should without fail be a part of any test preparation - that feeling may quickly fade. After a mediocre mock test score or two, he may even consider switching tests. Of course, there are some pros and cons to this. Let’s start by considering the reasons not to switch.

Firstly, just because you got a mediocre mock test score, does not necessarily mean you are not good at that test, in general, or that it is not the right test for you. It may just be telling you that now that you have finished your content-related preparation, you need to work on the actual performance of taking the test. It’s the same in sports: there’s drilling skills and drawing up and practicing plays - and then there are the scrimmages. The mock tests are the scrimmages. This is why the second phase of my preparation focuses on performance.

Performance includes psychological elements, such as handling pressure and managing distractions. It also includes mental aspects, such as focus, energy, confidence, relaxation and most of all, the ability to make good decisions under pressure. Often, on the first mock test, at least one of these challenges is not met, and the whole score goes out the window. So, rather than bailing on the test, what you really need to do is determine which challenge got the best of you and address that challenge.

Also, there are dilemmas you will encounter for the first time when you take a proctored mock test. For example, while working on the reading section, you may realize that you spent too much time on the second passage. How do you make up that time? Do you rush? Do you skip hard problems? Do you simply run out of time at the end? That’s a serious - and so common - dilemma. And the answers to dilemmas such as this - which will likely be different for different students - should be found through experimentation. (I’ll write more on different ways you can speed up your pace on the reading section.)

Endurance is another challenge presented by mock tests. Just as an athlete must improve his conditioning to have gas in the tank at the end of the fourth quarter, so, too, does a test-taker. For example, the ACT Science section is hard on its own, but it’s also hard simply because it’s the fourth section of the test! By the time you get to it on a mock test, you’ve already done over two hours of exhausting work! (More on endurance later.)

So, if at first you’re not scoring as you’d like to be, you may need to address performance issues rather than switching tests. You don’t want to waste valuable time or disrupt your work, just to encounter the same problems on the other test!