EducationPlaying the Admissions Game


Because all colleges accept either admissions test, high-schoolers must decide which works better for them.

Mark L. Fisher

Mark L. Fisher is a college and career consultant at Fisher Educational Consultants ( and a consultant for the College Planning Institute (

The purpose of my last AJT article Jan. 20, “Analyze Your PSAT,” was to encourage students to use their October PSAT scores to the fullest. High school students should ask themselves whether they have taken action, and parents should inquire of their high school underclassman whether they have acted.

Let’s go back in history for a moment. In the old days, in the Eastern and Southern parts of the United States, students for the most part had no idea that the ACT existed. Out in the Midwest, students would take the ACT and wonder what the SAT was all about.

In 2017, the world of college admissions tests has changed. The ACT and SAT are competitors, plain and simple, and all colleges in the United States accept either test.

The ACT has caught up to the SAT. Some say more students now take the ACT than the SAT. In fact, as early as 2012 the ACT was ahead, and it continues its climb.

Well, now that you have analyzed your PSAT, do the same for your ACT prep score.

You probably don’t have that score. Some high schools administered the ACT’s PLAN test, but that test has been eliminated from the ACT product line. There are some substitutes, such as the PreACT test, but my hunch is that not many high schools bother to give that test to 10th-graders.

Are you stuck? No. Both online and area test prep firms offer practice tests for the ACTs.

Do colleges care whether you take the SAT or ACT? Most do not care. If in doubt, ask the admissions office at a particular college.

Colleges are looking for the best scores they can find. After all, they publish their statistics. Who wants to print the lowest scores available? That doesn’t help rankings, for whatever that is worth.

How can you find out which test is better for you? Obviously, you have to take one SAT and one ACT, even if it is a practice test. That includes the PSAT, which is scored to let you know how you might score on the real test.

Should you study for only one of the tests or both? Take practice tests and see which test gives you the better result and which test you prefer. If you can determine one test is better for you, prepare only for that test.

You should ask the following questions when comparing the ACT and SAT:

  • Where can I obtain practice tests?
  • Is there a penalty for guessing?
  • When are the real tests administered?
  • What are the deadlines for registering?
  • When will my scores be available?
  • How long is each test?
  • What is the average time per question?
  • What is the length and timing for each section of the test?
  • How are the math questions different?
  • Do I need vocabulary cards to prepare for the test?
  • Will a college to which I am applying require the essay section?
  • The ACT has a science section. How much science do I need to know?
  • How much time do I have for the various types of questions?
  • Can I use my calculator for all the math questions?
  • How much trigonometry and geometry are on each test?
  • Will I need to find evidence to support my answers in the reading section?

The ACT has basically four sections: English, math, reading and science. The SAT is composed of evidence-based reading, writing and math. Each test has an optional essay, which isn’t optional if a college to which you will apply requires the essay.

You thought your major decision was signing up for either the ACT or SAT, but I guess there is more to think about. Sometimes I ask a student when he or she will take either test, and the student doesn’t know.

Why? “My mother signed me up, and I don’t know what date she signed me up for.”

My reply: “Is your mother going to be your roommate in college?”

Students, please take responsibility. You are college-bound, and no parent will make your daily decisions.

Mark L. Fisher is a college and career consultant at Fisher Educational Consultants and a consultant for the College Planning Institute.

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