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SAT and ACT Myths Debunked: The Truth About Standardized Tests and College Admission

Standardized tests are a controversial factor in the college admissions process, and with so many opinions on the value of these college entrance exams, misinformation can run rampant. From the value of one test over the other to how to prepare and how scores affect a student’s chances of admission, there are many myths out there about the SAT and ACT.

In order to have success in the college admissions process, parents and students need to first separate fact from fiction. There are many nuances to the college admissions process, and understanding what colleges are looking for and how to prepare is critical to gaining admission to students’ top-choice colleges.

We’ve previously debunked common admissions myths and now it’s time to tackle misinformation around the ACT and SAT. Here are some common college entrance exam myths and the truth behind each one.

Myth 1: The ACT is “easier” than the SAT.

This is a common myth — pitting one test against the other and even asserting that colleges value one over the other. However, colleges and universities that accept test scores equally consider both tests. No test is “easier” than the other. The factor that students must consider when choosing which test to take and prepare for is which one is a better fit for their abilities. At IvyWise, we recommend students take a diagnostic test of each under timed conditions to get an idea of which test they prefer and what aspects they need to prepare for.

Myth 2: I have great grades so I’ll do well on the SAT or ACT without studying.

Ideally, by the time students are sitting for the SAT or ACT, they will have adequately covered the content and concepts being tested. However, for many students, this isn’t the case. The curriculum varies from school to school, and every student has different abilities. The truth is, for some students, there may be little overlap in what’s being taught in class and what’s on the test. For other students, some concepts may have been covered previously, but so much time has passed that they’ve forgotten some of the key elements. Much of the content students are tested on in the SAT or ACT is also presented in a different format, so even though they’ve covered the concepts before it may seem unfamiliar. There’s also the issue of time constraints, test-taking strategies, and other factors that don’t mimic traditional learning or the classroom experience. Just because a student performs well in class doesn’t mean they will do well on the ACT or SAT the first time around. A student wouldn’t go into any other test unprepared, and standardized college entrance exams are no different.

Myth 3: I don’t need to take the SAT or ACT until the spring of my junior year.

While this is the most popular time for high school students to take college entrance exams, it leaves students with little time for improvement should they not perform as they expected. Also, with finals and AP exams on top of extracurricular activities and challenging courses, spring of junior year can leave students stretched thin — which can hurt test prep and performance. The truth is, many students will have covered the most frequently tested concepts on the SAT and ACT by sophomore year of high school, so for some students it can be better to take the test a little earlier if they’re ready.

Through test prep sophomore year and earlier in junior year, students can get a refresher on the content they’ve already covered — allowing them to take the test earlier and have more time for adjustments. Also, they can learn test-taking strategies and tips that don’t necessarily require prior knowledge of the content. For example, on the ACT science section, most questions have little to do with scientific knowledge. What students need to know is how to synthesize and analyze information and graphs. By starting to learn these skills and preparing for the test earlier in sophomore and junior year, students are in the best position to improve and reach their goal scores.

Myth 4: If I ace the SAT or ACT I can get into any college I want.

One of the most common misconceptions is that a perfect test score is a student’s ticket into any college of their choosing. The truth is, standardized test scores are just one factor that’s considered, and it’s certainly not the most important. After all, many schools have gone test-optional since the pandemic — some permanently, which shows that test scores aren’t the deciding factor.

College admissions officers consistently rank grades and course rigor as the most important admissions factors. So a student can have great test scores, but if their grades and courses aren’t up to standard, they may have a considerably lower chance of getting in. In fact, it can be a red flag to admissions officers if a student’s grades and test scores are wildly unmatched. That’s not to say that standardized test scores aren’t important. A score that’s too low could send a student on the cusp of admission to the “no” pile pretty quickly. It’s important to do well on standardized test scores, but it’s not the only thing to focus on.

It’s necessary for parents and students to have accurate information when it comes to the ACT and SAT in order to have ample time to prepare and perform well. If you need help with standardized testing, whether it’s developing a test-taking strategy, identifying which test to take, or help with score improvements, our team of expert tutors is here to help. Contact us today for more information on our tutoring services and how we can help your student reach their admission goals.

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