Most colleges around the world require that students submit standardized test scores as part of the application process. The testing process can feel stressful for some students, but with information and some practice, it can be more manageable.
There is no right answer to this question. If you are planning to go to college in the US, you may take either test; every college uses them interchangeably. If you are planning to look at colleges outside of the US, you may find yourself better served by taking the SAT, since—at the moment—that test is better known worldwide.
For US applicants, deciding between the SAT and the ACT is a matter of personal preference. We would suggest that you try a practice test as a diagnostic tool and then choose the one that you prefer based on the outcome. College Board makes practice SATs available, while the ACT offers practice ACT questions on their website and also provides one practice ACT test.
When should I take the SAT/ACT?
The SAT and ACT are designed for students who are in the second half of their junior year. Waiting to take the tests until the winter or spring of the junior year is the best strategy; scores go up as students develop their math and English skills. We recommend against taking the SAT or ACT earlier than the winter of junior year.
How many times should a student take the test? No more than two or three times—at some point, scores stop improving, and it is more important to allocate time to studying and extracurricular activities.
ACT, SAT, and Subject Test Registration
Students must register themselves for the ACT and SAT. Students sign up for the ACT through the ACT website; they sign up for the SAT through the College Board website.
SAS is a private test center for the SAT, which means that only SAS students may take these tests at our school (SAS does not administer the ACT). SAS students who want to take these tests at SAS must use a special set of registration instructions, which will be emailed to families by the college counseling team.
Students at SAS are well-positioned to take the SAT or ACT without much preparation. The best way to get ready for these tests is to read a lot and to do well in math classes. The more you are engaged academically, the better you are likely to fare on these standardized tests.
So should you study for the SAT or ACT? Yes, you should—but only a little bit. It is important to familiarize yourself with the test format, types of questions, and timing. But don't spend so much time prepping for the SAT or ACT that your grades, activities, or opportunities to participate in meaningful summer pursuits suffer. Grades are and your well-being are always more important. Make sure to balance testing and test prep with your academics and other things you enjoy.
There are many test prep options—standardized test preparation is big business—and the number of choices can feel overwhelming. The good news is that you can find a wide variety test prep options, many of which are free. Some students prefer to study on their own, using websites and/or test prep books. Other students prefer to sign up for a class or work with a tutor.
When Should I Start My Test Prep?
Whichever study method you choose, remember that test prep is most effective only when you do it about eight weeks prior to your test date. There are no demonstrated benefits to studying more or earlier than this. We strongly recommend against studying before the fall of junior year. There is no evidence that summer preparation is at all helpful -- we recommend that you find more interesting and engaging ways to spend your summer so that you will be a more compelling applicant.
Free Online Test Prep
Khan Academy: Official partner with College Board in offering free SAT preparation. Also provides free subject-specific resources in a wide variety of content areas.
College Board: The company that makes the SAT provides a full-length free practice test and offers other study tools on their website
ACT: The company behind the ACT provides practice tests and other study materials on their website.
Test Prep Companies
Before signing up with a test prep company or tutor, we suggest that you do some homework. Ask questions like:
How much does your program cost?
How many hours does your program last? (Note: we do not recommend any program that takes more than 30 hours —there’s no evidence that longer programs lead to higher scores, and too much prep time will take away from homework and activities.)
Do you offer classes, online work, one-on-one tutoring, or some combination of the three?
Do you work more on content knowledge or on test-taking and time management skills?
The PSAT is a practice SAT test that is given to all SAS freshmen and juniors each October. The PSAT 9 is given to freshmen. The test is given on the international test date in mid-October and each student is automatically registered for the exam.
The PSAT serves two purposes:
The PSAT provides practice for the real SAT. Since it is only a practice test, PSAT scores are not made a part of a student’s testing record and are only reported to high school counselors and students.
The PSAT/NMSQT is used as the basis for qualification in the National Merit Scholarship Program in a student's junior year. This is only open to US citizens and Permanent Residents. Additional details about the National Meritprogram are available.
Please note that only SAS students are allowed to take the PSAT and PSAT 9 on our campus.
The ACT tests a student's ability to apply knowledge and concepts in math, science, and English. It includes four multiple-choice subject tests covering English, math, reading, and science. The ACT also includes an optional essay section, which is required by some colleges.
Students who take the ACT will usually do so for the first time in the winter or spring of junior year. All SAS sophomores take a practice ACT in October.
Please visit the ACT website to view test dates and registrations deadline dates. Please note that SAS is not an ACT test center.
Some colleges require proof of English proficiency for students who do not speak English as a first language, who do not hold a passport from an English speaking country, or who have not received all of their schooling in English. Students should check with individual colleges to see what their English proficiency requirements are. Students who need proof of English proficiency will demonstrate it through one of two tests: IELTS and TOEFL.
IELTS is the International English Language Testing System. This is the test required by UK universities and many other schools around the world. Registration and more information is on the IELTS website.