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Why Take the SAT? How to Know if You Should Take the SAT or ACT

Deciding to take the SAT is a significant step for many high school students contemplating their future academic and career paths.

With college admissions becoming increasingly competitive, understanding the value and purpose of standardized testing can play a crucial role in planning for success.

This comprehensive guide explores the benefits of the SAT, providing insights into how it can open doors to higher education and beyond, helping you make an informed decision about whether to take the test.

SHORT ANSWER: It’s nearly always a good idea to take the SAT or ACT, as it opens doors to many colleges and universities, helps with deciding on a career, and prepares you for college. However, there are a couple times when it’s NOT a good idea to test.

Understanding the SAT and Its Purpose

The SAT is a standardized test widely used in the United States for college admissions. It assesses a student’s readiness for college through sections that measure mathematical, critical reading, and writing skills.

Originally designed as a scholarship test, it has evolved into a crucial component of the college admissions process. The test aims to provide a common metric for colleges to evaluate an applicant’s academic potential.

Many high schools and colleges advocate for the SAT as it aligns with educational standards, ensuring that test content reflects what students learn in school. As a result, a high SAT score can significantly boost a student’s college application.

Furthermore, the College Board, the organization behind the SAT, has introduced the SAT Suite of Assessments, which includes tests for different stages of high school. This suite aims to prepare students progressively for the main SAT test, encompassing a broader range of educational benchmarks.

Taking the SAT, therefore, offers students a comprehensive assessment experience that extends beyond a single test, integrating with their educational journey from freshman through the senior year. This extensive preparation helps ensure that when students finally take the SAT, they do so with a deep understanding of the subjects tested.

Top Reasons to Take the SAT

Opens Doors to Numerous Colleges and Universities

a path that splits into multiple branches, each leading to a different academic cap representing various majors. This visual metaphor illustrates how SAT scores might influence students' major and career choices.

The primary reason many students take the SAT is its widespread acceptance by colleges and universities across the United States.

A strong SAT score can open doors to a wide array of higher education institutions, from local colleges to prestigious universities. For students dreaming of attending a particular school or university, achieving a score above the average SAT scores reported by that institution can significantly enhance their admission prospects.

Additionally, some programs and scholarships specifically require SAT scores as part of the application process, making it a vital component for students seeking financial aid.

Beyond admission, a commendable SAT score can also be a critical factor in securing scholarships. Various academic and merit-based scholarships use SAT scores to identify eligible candidates, offering substantial financial aid packages that can cover tuition, room, and board. This not only makes higher education more accessible but also provides students with the opportunity to graduate with less debt.

Therefore, dedicating time and resources to SAT prep is not only an investment in a student’s educational journey but also in their financial future.

Helps in Preparation for College-Level Work

Taking the SAT also benefits students by preparing them for future academic endeavors.[1]

The test’s rigorous nature demands a solid foundation in reading, writing, and mathematics—skills that are essential for college-level work. By engaging in SAT prep, students can identify their strengths and weaknesses, allowing them to focus on areas that require improvement. This focused preparation can significantly ease the transition from high school to university, as students develop the study habits and critical thinking skills necessary for success in higher education.

Moreover, the SAT encourages a level of academic discipline and perseverance that will serve students well beyond college admissions. The process of preparing for the SAT, from first registering for the test to completing free practice exams and attending prep courses, mirrors the dedication required for college coursework. This experience fosters a hardworking mindset, equipping students with valuable life skills such as time management, problem-solving, and the ability to handle challenging situations. Thus, the SAT not only assesses students’ academic readiness but also contributes to their overall personal development.

Provides a Competitive Edge on College Applications

In the landscape of college admissions, a strong SAT score can differentiate an applicant from the competition.[2]

As colleges and universities receive thousands of applications, an exceptional SAT score can help a student’s application stand out. This is particularly true in a competitive applicant pool where many students boast similar GPAs and extracurricular achievements. A high SAT score attests to a student’s academic capabilities and readiness for college-level work, often tipping the scales in favor of admission.

Additionally, in the context of test-optional policies adopted by some schools in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, choosing to submit SAT scores when not required can demonstrate a student’s willingness to go above and beyond in the admissions process.

For students applying to colleges that still require or recommend SAT scores, a stellar performance on the test can also highlight academic strengths that may not be apparent from high school grades alone. In this way, taking the SAT and achieving a high score can provide a competitive edge critical for gaining admission to desired colleges and universities.

When NOT To Take The SAT

While the SAT offers numerous advantages, there are circumstances when taking the test may not be the best strategy for a student. If a student’s practice test scores are significantly below the average scores accepted by their chosen colleges, it might be worth reconsidering whether taking the SAT is the right path.

Additionally, if a student experiences extreme test anxiety that could negatively affect their performance, exploring test-optional schools could be a more favorable option. Moreover, students who excel in skills not measured by the SAT, such as creative or technical abilities, may find that their talents are better showcased through portfolios or alternative assessments offered by some colleges.

Another scenario to consider is the availability of requisite resources for adequate test preparation, including time and financial resources for tutoring or SAT prep courses. For students facing such constraints, focusing on other aspects of their college application might yield better returns on their efforts.

Importantly, the decision should also take into account the overall well-being of the student, ensuring that the preparation process does not overwhelm or negatively impact their high school experience. Ultimately, the choice to take the SAT should align with a student’s college wants, learning style, and personal circumstances, ensuring a path that fosters confidence and success.

How the SAT Supports Career Planning

Identifies Strengths and Weaknesses

Taking the SAT can play a pivotal role in a student’s career planning by identifying academic strengths and weaknesses. The comprehensive nature of the SAT’s sections allows students to gauge their proficiency in critical areas essential for many career paths.

For instance, a high score in the math section could indicate a potential for success in fields like engineering or finance, while excellence in the reading and writing sections might suggest a propensity for careers in communications, law, or the humanities. This insight enables students to make informed decisions about their major in college, aligning their academic pursuits with their career aspirations.

Beyond guiding career choices, the process of preparing for the SAT itself can unearth interests and passions a student may not have recognized. Engaging in the variety of subjects covered by the SAT can spark curiosity and lead to the exploration of new academic fields. This exploration is vital in helping students find a career path that not only capitalizes on their strengths but also aligns with their interests.

In this way, the SAT serves not only as a tool for college admissions but also as a means for students to discover their passion and potential career trajectory.

Influences Major and Career Choices

The SAT’s role in career planning extends beyond identifying strengths and weaknesses; it also influences students’ choices of college majors and, by extension, their career paths. Schools often consider SAT scores when advising students on suitable majors, matching academic strengths with potential career opportunities.

This matching process can help students make choices that are not only academically sound but also aligned with job market demands. For students unsure of their future direction, a strong performance in a specific section of the SAT can be the determining factor in choosing a major, providing a clear path forward.

Moreover, in today’s competitive job market, a strong educational background is crucial. Achieving a high SAT score and selecting a major that complements this achievement can make a tangible difference in a graduate’s employability.

Employers often seek candidates who have excelled academically, viewing high SAT scores as an indicator of hard work, intelligence, and the ability to learn and apply new information quickly. Therefore, the SAT not only influences the initial choice of college major but also plays a crucial role in shaping a student’s long-term career prospects, helping them to stand out in the job search process.

Comparing the ACT and SAT

When considering standardized testing for college admissions, students often find themselves deciding between the SAT and the ACT. Both tests serve as benchmarks for academic readiness, but they differ in content, format, and scoring.

The SAT focuses more on evidence-based reading and writing, though it includes two math sections, aimed at evaluating a student’s critical thinking and problem-solving skills. In contrast, the ACT includes a science section and generally covers broader content areas, often appealing to students with strong analytical skills in natural sciences, (it still has a math section though).

Choosing between the two tests ultimately depends on a student’s strengths and preferences. For example, students who excel in quantitative reasoning might choose the ACT for its straightforward approach to math and science.

On the other hand, those with strong verbal skills and the ability to comprehend and analyze texts might find the SAT more aligned with their capabilities.

It’s advisable for students to take practice tests for both the SAT and ACT to determine which test best showcases their strengths. Since colleges accept scores from either test, the decision should be guided by where a student feels most confident and able to achieve the highest possible score.

And though there’s a lot of debate right now on whether standardized tests benefit or hurt under-represented students, research done a few years ago in California found that “high-school grades and course-taking were responsible for much of the difference in admissions rates”, not race, gender, or socioeconomic status.[3]

Furthermore, their research showed that “if testing requirements were eliminated, it would deny automatic admission to 40 percent of African American students and more than 25 percent of low-income and first-generation students admitted to [the University of California] today.[3]

Digital SAT Prep for a Top SAT Score

Study Strategies and Resources

a group of diverse students studying together for the SAT. They're seated around a table, engaging with each other and their study materials in a colorful and friendly environment.

Effective studying and preparation is key to achieving a high score on the SAT. Students should begin by familiarizing themselves with the test structure and question types, using resources such as free official SAT practice exams provided by the College Board.

Developing a study schedule that allocates time for each section of the test can help ensure comprehensive coverage of the material. Additionally, leveraging online resources, including digital SAT prep courses and study guides, can provide valuable practice and feedback.

For students seeking more structured guidance, enrolling in SAT prep courses or working with a tutor can be beneficial. These resources offer personalized instruction tailored to a student’s specific needs, focusing on areas that require improvement.

It’s also important to simulate test conditions during practice sessions to build stamina and reduce test-day anxiety. By approaching SAT prep with a strategic and disciplined mindset, students can significantly improve their performance, turning their college aspirations into achievable goals.

Time Management for Test Day

Managing time effectively on test day is crucial for maximizing performance on the SAT. Students should aim to arrive at the test center early, well-rested, and equipped with all necessary materials. During the test, it’s important to pace oneself, allocating time to each question and section judiciously. Skipping questions that appear too difficult and returning to them later can prevent wasting time on a single problem.

Practicing with timed sections during preparation can help students become familiar with applying the pacing required for test day. Developing a strategy for dealing with difficult questions, such as making educated guesses or quickly eliminating two or three incorrect answers, can also save valuable time.

By mastering time management techniques, students can approach the SAT with confidence, ensuring that they can fully demonstrate their knowledge and skills within the allotted time.

You May Not be Required to Take the SAT, But It’s Better to Do It Now

Deciding to take the SAT is a strategic choice that can significantly impact a student’s academic and career trajectory[4]. From opening doors to prestigious four-year colleges and universities to influencing career planning, the SAT offers numerous benefits that extend well beyond the college admissions process.

With proper preparation, thoughtful consideration of when to take the test, and a good understanding of how it compares to the ACT, students can position themselves for success. However, the decision to take the SAT should align with a student’s personal goals, academic strengths, and college aspirations, marking an important step towards future success.


[1] https://satsuite.collegeboard.org/media/pdf/national-sat-validity-study-overview-admissions-enrollment-leaders.pdf

[2] https://www.purdue.edu/research/features/stories/testing-matters-why-using-sat-and-act-scores-for-admissions-still-makes-sense/

[3] https://edsource.org/2020/research-tells-us-standardized-admissions-tests-benefit-under-represented-students/628611

[4] https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.1136618

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