5 Myths About the SAT & ACT

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When it comes to standardized tests, the truth is often riddled with inaccuracies. Students, parents, teachers, counselors and friends have all seen or heard different information about the ACT or SAT, and each one of them offers input once it’s time for you to take the test. With so much on the line, any misinformation can potentially derail your progress and further complicate an already complex process. To avoid such a scenario, let’s separate fact from fiction and dispel some common myths about the ACT and SAT.

Myth #1: Most colleges prefer the SAT over the ACT.

Colleges increasingly have made it a point to consider the ACT and SAT equally. Since the SAT change in 2016, the tests themselves mirror one another relatively closely. The differences simply aren’t stark enough for colleges to prefer one test over the other. The fact of the matter is that you should determine which test you can excel at and strive to earn the highest score you can.

Myth #2: The SAT is “harder” than the ACT.

Test difficulty is subjective: what is considered easy for one student may not be so easy for another. The order, timing, concepts, and number of questions on the ACT and SAT all make for two different testing experiences. Building off of a point from myth #1, each student should explore both tests then decide which one better fits his or her abilities and offers a higher chance of an impressive score. Taking a diagnostic SAT and ACT will allow you to get a feel for both and should help you decide which one you ultimately want to prepare for college admissions.

Myth #3: I have good grades, so I don’t have to study for the ACT/SAT

Many students think that they don’t have to study for standardized tests because their good grades will automatically translate to a high score on the ACT or SAT. Although a strong academic record should reflect your ability to perform well on standardized tests, the classroom experience is different from the college admissions testing experience. Sure, there may be some overlap between what you’ve seen in class and what you see on the ACT or SAT, but don’t assume that you’ll reach your potential without any practice. The ACT and SAT present concepts in a particular format, and many students have to adjust in order to perform their best. As with any test, preparation is key.

Myth #4: Studying vocabulary is a waste of time for the ACT/SAT

The ACT and SAT both test direct vocabulary knowledge but only on a handful of questions, so it may seem like studying vocabulary is a waste of time. However, the strength of your reading and writing scores are often correlated to the strength of your vocabulary. The reading and writing sections will often contain advanced vocabulary throughout the passages. Not knowing what certain words mean can leave gaps in your reading comprehension, slowing down your progress and perhaps even leaving you stuck on some questions. Improving your vocabulary, especially understanding multiple meanings of words, will enhance your critical reading skills and ultimately improve your score.

Myth #5: Don’t take the October ACT/SAT

“Isn’t the October ACT/SAT harder because all the seniors are taking it, so the test isn’t curved as much?” I hear versions of this question all the time, and my response is always the same: neither the ACT nor the SAT is curved. Your ACT/SAT score is not affected by how others perform on the test because both tests use a process called “equating.” According to the College Board, equating is defined as “a process that adjusts for slight differences in difficulty between various versions of the test (such as versions taken on different days).” The ACT uses the exact same process, which is designed to ensure fairness across different test administrations. Remember, test difficulty is subjective and depends primarily on your ability and preparation. Don’t buy into the myth of avoiding a particular test date because it “might” be harder than another. At the end of the day, your score will represent your aptitude no matter how easy or difficult you may find the test.

Dispelling myths takes time, especially around such a complex process as college admissions. Now that you have this information at your disposal, use it to your advantage and spread it to those who may find it useful. Let the facts guide your way and lead you down as smoothly a road as possible on your college admissions journey.


Jon G. is originally from Houston, Texas. He holds a Bachelor's degree from Harvard University and is currently one of the resident English gurus at Elite Prep Los Angeles. Nothing makes him more proud and pumped up than watching his students succeed. When it comes to hitting the books, Jon recommends starting early and studying in increments to avoid burnout. He's a huge basketball fan, loves green tea, and his favorite vocabulary word is "seditious."

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