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Parental guidance: SAT or ACT: Which should my child take?

A file photo of a student at Glen

A file photo of a student at Glen Cove High School taking Regents exams. (Aug. 14, 2008) Photo Credit: Newsday/ J. Conrad Williams Jr.

What's the difference between the SAT and the ACT? Which one should my child take?

 Both tests are used by colleges to evaluate candidates for admission. The SAT has long been more popular at New York high schools. It's still taken by about 160,000 students verses 50,000 for the ACT here, according to statistics from Kaplan Test Prep; the numbers are about 50/50 nationwide. The vast majority of colleges now accept either test.

The ACT is more of a content-based achievement test, measuring what's learned in the high school curriculum, says Maureen Moloughney, director of guidance for the Farmingdale School District. The SAT is more of an aptitude and critical thinking exam. "One may suit you better as a learner," Moloughney says.

The SAT has three sections, verbal, math and a required writing test; the ACT has five sections, English, mathematics, reading, science and an optional writing test. Cost and test duration time are similar.

"Students should take the test in which they can achieve the highest score," advises Colin Gruenwald, SAT and ACT faculty manager for Kaplan, which offers test prep classes. Free practice tests are available online, as are concordance tables so students can compare scores, he says.

Look at the colleges your child is interested in to see what tests are preferred, suggests Stacie Reid, director of guidance for the Uniondale School District. Certain schools may require students take SAT II tests as well if they choose the traditional SAT, Moloughney says. What's the SAT II? Stay tuned for next week's column.

Do you have a Parental Guidance question? Send an email to or follow her on Twitter @bethwhitehouse1.


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