Common Myths & Misconceptions about the ACT and SAT

Many students and parents come into the test prep process with preconceived notions about the way the ACT and SAT function, how they’re perceived and used by colleges, and whether one test is easier than the other. As with most myths, they hold glimmers of truth, but they often obscure as much or more than they reveal. So let’s tackle the most common myths and misconceptions and the ACT, the SAT, and the test prep process.

Perhaps the most troubling myth I hear is that colleges prefer the SAT. This is not true! Ditto for the idea that “it doesn’t matter which test I take.” Colleges weigh the ACT and SAT equally, but they’re very different tests, so it’s especially important that students take the test that is most appropriate for them and their skill-sets. The ACT has more timing pressure, while the SAT creates difficulty by asking students to engage with more complex questions. Neither is necessarily more difficult than the other in general, but most students will have an edge on one test over the other. We help with this process by using our PathFinder Diagnostic to determine for which test a student is better suited.

Another common misconception is that large score gains are impossible to attain, but this could not be further from the truth. While improving a score from the initial diagnostic takes work, most students will already have the academic skills they need to perform well on the test but likely have not encountered any tests in the style of the SAT or the ACT. What this means on a pragmatic level is that students need to learn the strategies for these tests, not necessarily the content—though that is important, too! Both tests are incredibly coachable, and we as tutors have worked through countless tests and problems in-depth and identified the best strategies for different styles of learning. Large score gains are certainly possible with the right tactics and some dedication.

Getting back to the content of the test, I also frequently hear students tell me that they hate science, so the ACT must be too difficult for them. Well. Good news and bad news.

The bad news is that, while the SAT does not have an official science section, science is well integrated into the test, so if you hate science, there’s no real avoiding it on either test. The good news, however, is that neither the ACT nor the SAT is testing your science skills in the way that, say, your biology teacher is. On the ACT, you will be tasked with analyzing charts, following trends, and utilizing your basic scientific reasoning skills. Do you remember the scientific method from sixth grade and know how to read a chart? Then you should be completely fine on the ACT’s Science section with a bit of help. There will be a handful of outside knowledge questions, but even if you don’t know any of those, you can still achieve a strong Science score since every other question can be answered simply by reading a chart, following a trend, or referring back to a passage.

The other bit of good news is that the SAT’s science, since it’s integrated into the Reading, Math, and English sections, requires no outside knowledge at all. So even if you hate science with a burning passion, you can and will pull through, and you are more than capable of learning the strategies to make this topic as pain-free as possible.

If you have questions about these or any other test-taking tall tales, connect with one of our ACT tutors or our SAT tutors. We may not look good in a beret, but we’re more than happy to bust some ACT and SAT myths for you.  (If you don’t get that reference, look it up—I promise it’s clever.)