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Don’t Fall for These Five Misconceptions About the SAT and ACT

Few college prep experiences cause more anxiety than the SAT and ACT tests. And the only thing that can make that anxiety worse is not knowing what's true and what's just a rumor about how your standardized test results will affect your college applications.

Dr. Kat Cohen, founder of college consulting company IvyWise, dispels 5 myths about the two tests.

Students should take both the SAT and the ACT.

Not true. While the tests are becoming more and more similar in light of the new changes being made to the SAT, it is still important for students to focus on studying specifically for one test. By dedicating effort toward one exam, students can become completely comfortable with that exam, and the test-taking skills it requires. Plus, who wants to sit through hours upon hours of tests by taking each one multiple times?

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A second-semester junior should take the new SAT in March.

Not if the student has a choice, and has been preparing for the ACT. Due to the complete restructuring of the SAT — including a return to the 1600-point scale, an emphasis on reading-based questions and no point deduction for wrong answers — the test does require a different set of skills than it did previously.

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Plus, for those students who do take the March SAT, the College Board has already indicated that scores from the March test will be held until after the May test, adding, in essence, a two-month time-out to a student’s test-prep plans: They won’t have March scores in hand to help decide on possible retakes in May or even June. They also won’t have have scores that may help guide additional test prep. Further delays with scoring are anticipated, narrowing the window prior to the early action college deadline.

Everything is riding on my scores.

Standardized test scores are one factor that is considered when colleges are reviewing an applicant — but they’re not the most important. According to the National Association of College Admissions Counseling’s State of College Admissions report, grades come first, followed by course rigor. Test scores come in third.

Related: Ditch Statewide Tests and Just Use SATs Instead, Educators Say

And in Harvard’s most recent report on admissions, “Turning the Tide,” they urge colleges and universities to stop placing so much importance on standardized test scores. It is yet to be determined what impact this report will have on how schools view standardized testing, but this could be the start of more schools adopting test-optional models.

Related: An 'A' in Kindness? College Admissions Movement Places Less Emphasis on Tests

That said, if a student is applying to schools where standardized test scores are still required, it is important to have high enough scores because schools don’t want to bring down their SAT/ACT averages (something that impacts how the school places in rankings such as U.S. News & World Report’s). And despite holistic admissions practices, if a student doesn’t even meet the median test score at a particular school, their application might not even get a thorough read-through.

Every college requires a standardized test score.

Nope. There are of over 800 four-year colleges and universities that are test-optional or test-flexible. Check out a list of these schools on FairTest.org.

Students should discuss with their counselors and tutors whether it makes more sense for them to apply to test-optional schools. This might be a great option for a student whose standardized test scores don’t reflect their high GPA.

Colleges give preference to the SAT.

No one standardized test is valued over another. While historically there may have been a geographical preference for each test (the East Coast favored the SAT and middle America favored the ACT), this is no longer true. Colleges value the ACT and SAT equally.