My son has taken the ACT and we are pleased with his score. Does he need to take the SAT? I’m hearing a lot of parents say kids need both and that seems to be the advice from his school. What do you think?
Great question! No. Students do NOT need to take both exams; one is enough.
Let me clarify.
For the student who is not going to take a prep class or work with a quality tutor, the suggestion to take both the SAT and ACT is not bad advice. Some students prefer the format of one over the other. Usually students will have comparable scores on these exams; sometimes one test is clearly ahead of the other—not by a huge amount, but in the current admissions climate, any extra points are welcome.
Here’s why I’ve started recommending students focus on one test rather than trying to do both.
- Colleges are only going use a student’s best scores. So extra testing is unnecessary.
- High school students are busy and extra time can be more productively spent on meaningful activities or schoolwork.
- Taking multiple exams (often multiple times) can create a dilemma when applying to schools that request a student send ALL scores.
- Finally, I’m simply not a fan of over testing.
Let me explain.
All Colleges Accept ACT Scores
When I applied to college (in the ‘80s) there were some highly selective schools that did not accept ACT scores. Times have changed. Currently any college or university that requires test scores for admission will accept the ACT or SAT with no preference given to either one.
So a student with a strong ACT score can use that to apply to all the schools on his list—even the Ivy League schools.
Colleges Use Best Scores
Colleges are looking for the scores that will best serve the student in the admissions process. Once a student has earned a score he or she is satisfied with, additional scores aren’t needed. In some cases, one test is enough. However, many students will re-take a particular exam or try to take both the SAT and ACT in order to earn scores they find acceptable.
In this case if your son is already pleased with his ACT scores, he doesn’t need anything else. His strong ACT score is sufficient.
Time Is Better Spent Elsewhere
Most students I work with are busy. They take challenging classes, participate in sports and clubs at school, volunteer to help others, and have family obligations. These aren’t kids with nothing to do. So preparing to take another major exam is going to take 5 to 100 hours of their time— time that would be better spent elsewhere.
This is why I encourage my students to give 100% to the test prep process in the six to ten weeks we work together. If they can earn top scores at that time, they get to move on and use the rest of the school year or summer to work on other more meaningful pursuits.
Taking tests just to take them is a waste of time. Colleges want to see a student’s best result. While it is nice to think the admissions office will be impressed with the effort of multiple attempts, effort is rarely a factor. What really impresses is achievement.
Some Schools Require All Test Scores
Some colleges and universities have standardized test policies that require students to send ALL results. Obviously this means if I took the ACT three times, I need to send all three scores. But what if I also took the SAT and don’t want colleges to see those scores because they aren’t as good as my ACT results?
In this situation, the student who is happy with his ACT score might not be happy with the results if he takes the SAT. Will he need to send those results too?
I think this brings up a dilemma in admissions. Students and parents should know the policies at each school and carefully read the language. Just know that taking another exam “just because” can present some predicaments in the future.
Over-Testing is a Bad Thing
I know! I’m the person who is always encouraging practice tests and more homework. But I also believe that over testing is not a good thing. Yes, students may take the ACT and/or the SAT multiple times to achieve a goal, but once the goal is met, move on.
A student who is satisfied with his ACT scores is D.O.N.E. in my book. So are students who have given 100% effort and have taken their exam of choice three times. At some point, it is healthy to see the testing phase as over and move onto more important things like high school achievements, college applications, or having time to think.
So this is where I remind parents and students that just because you can doesn’t mean you should. You can take the SAT (or another ACT), but it isn’t a requirement. In fact, there are good reasons not to take another standardized test.