“Do you think my child will do better on the SAT or the ACT?” asked Mrs. Greenberg, a mother of junior at Daniel Hand High School in Madison.
Of all the misinformation and partial truths that I hear passed around the parent water cooler, the myth that some students will do extraordinarily well on the ACT but terribly on the SAT is likely the biggest.
In fifteen years of training students in both the SAT and the ACT, I have observed the following pattern that has led to the myth:
High school junior does not prepare for the PSATs, performs terribly, builds up a psychological wall against the SAT, is told that there is this other test called the ACT, delights that there is an escape from the SAT, prepares vigorously for the ACT, does far better on the ACT and then becomes part of the mythology that some people will do far better on the ACT than the SAT.
The SAT and the ACT have always been rigorous standardized tests that measure reading comprehension, mathematical ability, and grammar skills. The ACT also has a science section. There are subtle differences and it is true that some students will prefer one test to the other and perform substantially better on one test than the other. But the vast majority of students who prepare similarly for each test perform similarly on each test.
This might not be an answer that most Connecticut parents of SAT-ACT test-takers want to hear. But it is accurate. With that said, if I can use psychological leverage of embracing the ACT as an alternative to the SAT, I always do so in order to help student motivation.