Let us you tell you a story…
The following is a personal reflection by Ivy Experience co-founder Eric Karlan.
Growing up in Connecticut, I only knew the SAT. And, like many high school students, I did not care for it. And like many other straight-A and high-achieving students, I got a rude awakening the first time I took a practice SAT and my scores did not match my academic performance in school. Sure, my math was solid, over a 700. But it became a running joke in my family that the aspiring journalism major was barely in the mid-500s in the verbal section.
So we figured that I would do what everyone else did: study for hours, take practice tests, and enroll in a prep program. I did not know of any other option.
Except there was another option.
And fortunately, I found that out on a college visit to Brown University when I met with a woman in the Alumni College Advising Program who completely changed my standardized testing trajectory. Our conversation went something like this:
“How are your grades?”
“How was your PSAT?”
“Not as awesome.”
“Have you heard of the ACT?”
The reality was that I had never heard of the ACT. This woman insisted that when I returned home I should get a copy of a practice test, take it, and see if that test better suited me than the SAT. She told me that all colleges look at the SAT and ACT completely equally – that if I did better on the ACT, I would never have to take the SAT at all.
Sure enough, she was right: the ACT was better suited for me. In fact, the difference was dramatic. Whereas my first practice SAT may not have even been a 1300, my first practice ACT was nearly perfect – in other words, about 200 points better than my baseline SAT.
The rest happened fast: I signed up for the December ACT of my junior year, I took one more practice ACT at home while sitting on the living room floor, and on the actual test I scored a 34 (equal to about a 1510 on the current SAT). I was done with my standardized testing before the vast majority of my peers had even started their studying.
So what is the moral of my story?
Contrary to what it may look like, the moral is NOT that the ACT is a better or easier test than the SAT.
Over the years, I have seen many students like myself whose diagnostic scores strongly favor the ACT, but I have seen many students whose baseline numbers strongly favor the SAT, too…And there are many students whose scores are virtually identical.
So the first moral of my story is to take diagnostic tests of BOTH the SAT and ACT before spending a second of time, an ounce of stress, or a penny from your wallet on any tutoring or test prep. Just figuring out the better test for me saved me and my family so much time, energy, money, and stress.
My story is a source of inspiration for our company values and philosophy. When we encourage every family who reaches out to us to make sure their student has tried both the SAT and ACT, it is because there is no simple way to determine what test is better for a student than taking a practice test of each.
Trust me, I get that taking two practice tests is an investment of time – even when we offer diagnostics that are a half-test of the SAT and ACT. And there are plenty of people who will insist that a ‘certain type of student’ will be better suited for one test than the other. But these generalizations are myths, as we have seen from over a decade of experience helping students navigate this decision.
There is a second moral to my story: there is a lot of bad information and advice out there. When word got out that I was taking the ACT in high school (as word often does in suburban communities), my parents got calls from other parents who said things like ‘Eric is killing his shot of going to the colleges he really wants to get in to’ … ‘the ACT is the stupid test’ … ‘colleges only want the SAT.’
In another instance, a school administrator pulled me aside to encourage me to take the SAT – not for my own benefit, but to contribute to the district average.
Bad information and advice still runs rampant today. So much so that the #1 question we have been asked since my company was founded is “Are the SAT and ACT looked at equally by colleges?” – to which we of course always say yes.
That leads to the second most asked question: “Are you sure?”
Getting good, accurate information is essential to navigating and managing the college prep process. This is why we host so many educational college prep seminars for free in private family homes, community organizations, and even schools. This is why we take the time to educate families who reach out to us on the differences between the SAT and ACT – and why we are happy to send SAT and ACT diagnostic tests, grade the results, and provide an evaluation for any family who reaches out to us for no cost and no obligation.
The best time for most students to do SAT/ACT prep is the summer before junior year, which means the best time to take SAT and ACT diagnostic tests is in the latter months of sophomore year. Diagnostic tests may seem annoying, and they may take up time, but they are worth it.