Three Common SAT & ACT Myths That Just Won't Go Away


The SAT and ACT are surrounded by so much student stress and anxiety that misinformation about the exams is sure to arise. Here are the three most common myths about the SAT and ACT, ripe for the annual debunking.

Myth 1: Based on the group of students sitting for the exams for particular test dates, there are certain times of the year when it is more “advantageous” to take the SAT or ACT. This is one of the toughest myths to quash. It just seems to make sense. For example, some high school juniors figure that if they sit for the SAT or ACT in the fall––when many seniors who didn’t achieve the scores they were looking for in their own junior year are retaking the exams for a final time before they send in college applications––they are more likely to score higher, reasoning that they’ll be taking the test with a group of students who obviously were not “smart enough” to do well the first time.

This misconception is entirely unfounded, and is based in part on the incorrect notion that the SAT and ACT are “curved” in a manner similar to the way high school exams are traditionally curved. In fact, both the SAT and ACT exams are scaled through a rigorous statistical process known as equating. This process removes the “smartness” factor of the testing group from the mix, establishing scoring scales that reflect the performance of each student independent of how students overall perform on a particular test day. This ensures relative score consistency no matter which date students take their tests. Independent analyses have confirmed the efficacy of the scaling process. Bottom line: take the test when you’re ready––the results of the peers with whom you test will not affect your own scores.

Myth 2: Students can “superscore” their own score reports so as to submit only their best test results to colleges and universities. The phenomenon of “superscoring” arose when it became increasingly common for students to take the SAT and ACT multiple times, and when colleges and universities decided to base their admissions decisions on a more holistic view of students’ credentials. Indeed, some schools do superscore, meaning their admissions committees will take results from multiple exam dates and consider the best ones overall. This process, however, is not something you the student can do yourself. In other words, you cannot create a “cut and paste” or “Frankenstein” record that brings together various scores from different exam dates in a single score report. Each college or university sets its own score-use policy, usually detailed on its undergraduate admissions website. If the school chooses to superscore, you’ll still need to submit all the scores from test dates whose numbers you want the admissions committee to see.

Myth 3: “Colleges accept only the <fill in ‘SAT’ or ‘ACT’ here>”. We’re sorry parents, but this one is kind of on you. Based on their experience, parents are likely to come into the standardized testing process with biases and ideas informed by their own experiences in high school. However, things have changed: the vast majority of colleges and universities across the country will accept either an SAT or ACT score without bias toward either. Neither test is more highly regarded; neither will earn you special brownie points; neither test inherently increases your chances of admission. Of course, if you do take both exams, you should submit the one that demonstrates greater ability (use an SAT-ACT concordance table to see which, if either, gives you a better result); just understand that you are not putting yourself at a disadvantage by submitting just an SAT score or just an ACT score.

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