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Most colleges in the US give you a choice of examination. You can either give the SAT or the ACT, and most people have a thousand questions about each – does one of them help you in front of the Admissions Board at your chosen college? Which of them is ‘easier’? Which of them is ‘more scoring’?

The answer to all of these is, as most good answers are: It depends. On your skill set. Here are a few case studies from Jamboree‘s extensive history in coaching children for both the SAT and the ACT, and the advice we gave people in these cases. Do keep in mind that your situation is unique and that you should consult an expert before making your decision.

Tarini loves science and is really good at it. Her critical reasoning is good, but a little slow. We looked at Tarini’s case in detail and realized that her strong suit was her instinctive understanding of concepts and terms in science and that she did distinctively well on straightforward questions. Our advice to her was to take the ACT – and she came out with a great score, free from the pressure of having to complete an aptitude based exam in a tight time situation. She played to her strengths.

Shubham has always struggled with advanced Math, but his dream is to study writing abroad. Our advice to Shubham was a no-brainer. We understood that his aptitude was high; that he was able to do basic math. But trigonometry, for example, was a problem area for him, almost a mental block. Both the SAT and the ACT have a compulsory mathematics section, but the SAT definitely tests simpler concepts, though not necessarily in a more straightforward way. Since he was able to master basic math, the SAT was what his skills were better suited to, and that’s what he ended up succeeding at!

Bhuma struggles with writing. She is very quick at questions on her strong subjects but finds it difficult to maintain a coherent train of thought across a long passage. The ACT was almost made for her, because the writing section in the ACT is optional, unlike in the SAT, where it is a key component of your overall application. NOTE: Some colleges require an essay even if you give the ACT, so check your dream school requirements before taking advantage of the optional card.

Tahir doesn’t like time pressure. Given sufficient time, he can ace any test on the planet – ACT, SAT, anything. However, when he has less time allowed per question, he sometimes fumbles and makes mistakes that would never have happened, given time. We told him that the SAT was perhaps better for him. All other things being equal, the SAT affords you more time per question (both tests are approximately 200 minutes long; the ACT has about 40 more questions). Free of having to glance nervously at the clock every other minute, Tahir achieved a score most people only dream about.

John likes tests he can prepare for. When the syllabus is cut and dried and the questions are predictable, he does well. However, he does significantly less well when put in a strange situation that he has not encountered before. John is an example of a fairly common type of student – and our advice to these is always – go for the ACT. If your preparation is always perfect if your preparation outdoes your aptitude in an exam situation, you should go for the ACT. It’s an exam you can study for and improve at.

Similarly, we have seen many students who perhaps are not too comfortable with the conventional educational model of studying for tests, but who do brilliantly well in an exam that tests their innate smartness. These students should take the SAT.

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