I Need Help Choosing Between the SAT and ACT!
Should I Take One of Those Hybrid Tests Companies Offer?
FULL DISCLOSURE: I used to create hybrid tests for schools to assess whether their students were “better” at the SAT or ACT. It was great money—about three hours of testing, five hours of answer input, and an easy 4 to 5 grand.
These tests were great. There was a testing component based on actual test trends, a questionnaire on which test felt better, fancy analysis to group students into the SAT camp or the ACT camp. A masterpiece, if I do say so myself.
Here’s the kicker though…they were worthless for about 80% of the students who took them.
Let me explain.
When I sat down in front of the administrators and broke out my fancy graphs with prediction bands, my data tables with different colored headings, and my nerdy statistical analysis that administrators love to see, the results were invariably the same. It doesn’t matter. The majority of students in your school aren’t numerically better equipped for one test over the other. Let me tell you, the fastest way to lose a contract is to tell someone the same thing for three years in a row.
Worse yet, when I would work with a student who had taken one of our hybrid tests, I always found myself saying, “I need you to take a full SAT or ACT so we have a good baseline of where you are.” Like clockwork, I always got the same question, “But I already took a hybrid test. Isn’t that good enough?”
Nope. And here’s the problem with my hybrid tests as well as every other hybrid test I have seen since: you can’t replicate more than 6 hours of testing in 3 hours.
Let me be clear: a hybrid test has little predictive power for how you’ll actually score on either test and is moderately successful at determining the best test for you.
Also, get this. If you take a three hour hybrid test, then need to take a three hour SAT or ACT to hone in on problem areas, you could’ve just taken a practice SAT and an ACT instead <SPOILERS>That’s the central claim of this post<SPOILERS>.
I get it. In theory, a hybrid test sounds great. It’s like seven minute abs. However, there is way too much content on both tests for them to be stripped down into their bare-bones and still have any predictive strength.
True, there is content overlap on both of the tests; however, the content is presented in two very different ways. A student who gets an equation of a line question wrong on the SAT wouldn’t automatically get an equation of a line question on the ACT incorrect. A student who struggles through the reading section on one test may find that the other test is a much better fit. How do you conclude from the one or two passages you would put on a hybrid test for Reading that a student is a superior SAT reader?
One of the other big problems with the hybrid test that I grappled with was the order of the sections. Both tests are difficult for many students because the tests are long. On the ACT, Science is the last section and many students struggle more during an actual test administration than if they took the science section as a standalone assignment. On the SAT, students are dealing with a math section last. By the time students get to either one of these sections, fatigue has already set in and they are making mistakes they may not have made had it been the first section. On either 3-hour test, students struggle to run through the finish line and not coast into it. For some students, it’s a while before they get the ball rolling, so to speak. These students struggle on the first parts of a test. Either way, the organization of the test matters.
On a hybrid test, how do you organize the sections to prevent this from happening? Simply put, you can’t. Having the reading section come first on the SAT tests students endurance in a different way than it does on the ACT when that section is third. On the ACT, Math comes second. You’ve done a 45-minute English section before the math–that’s it. On the SAT, however, the math section appears third–that’s a hundred minutes into testing by the time students are doing anything quantitative. For many students in today’s generation, 100 minutes of forced reading is grueling and there is not much left in the tank for the math.
These were just some of the issues with our tests–tests that had questions, reading levels, and difficulty levels meticulously culled from years of testing trends. In the years since, I’ve looked at many other hybrid tests from other companies and, well, they’ve done nothing to change my opinion.
Time for some shade! Here’s some issues with some of the hybrid tests I’ve seen in years past, some of which companies charge over $100 for you to take.
ACT sections come first, then SAT sections (or vice-versa). You don’t know whether a student is excelling or struggling because of the order of the sections or the actual content.
- Half-Tests. Instead of, say, 5 SAT reading passages and 4 ACT Reading passages, a student has 2 of each. I’ve seen a company reason that you have 13 minutes per SAT passage, on average, and 8 minutes and 45 seconds per ACT passage, so here’s a Reading section with two of each and 44 minutes to take it. You don’t need a PhD in test prep to realize this is awful.
- Half tests, again. Mixing question types from both tests into a section is always a bad idea. You are allotted different amounts of time per question, on average, for both tests. When you mix sections, you’re either giving less time per SAT question or more time per ACT question, Both no bueno.
- Half tests, yet again. Some companies at least understand mixing SAT and ACT questions is silly, so they break the sections up as half an ACT section and half a corresponding SAT section. Better, but still off the mark. Besides the ordering issues mentioned earlier, you also don’t get nearly the amount of content on the test. By our count, there are 237 different math skills tested on the SAT. Double that for the ACT. How is it possible to get a good feel when you’re giving students 30 haphazardly chosen questions from each?
- Question selection. Piggybacking off the last point, I haven’t seen a hybrid test that comes close to modeling the frequencies of even the most fundamental concepts on the test. I’ve seen a mock ACT section with 2 Geometry questions out of 30 (about 7%). On actual tests, it’s about 3 times that. How can you determine the better test when you’re not taking the actual content from both tests.
I could go on, but you probably get the point–hybrid tests are trash. What’s the solution? No shortcuts.
THE BEST WAY TO SEE IF YOU ARE BETTER SUITED FOR AN SAT OR ACT IS TO TAKE A PRACTICE ONE OF EACH.
Flip a coin. Heads means take a practice SAT first, tails a practice ACT first (never take both on the same day!). I don’t care if you take the tests with us. Call up that company offering the hybrid test and ask to take an SAT one week and an ACT the next; they’ll be happy because they get to charge you twice.
Just remember the three Rs for taking practice tests: REAL, RELEASED, and RECENT. Either test should be from the actual test writers, College Board (for an SAT) or ACT (for an, umm, ACT), administered to actual students, and in the most current format (June 2015 or later for the ACT).
Here are some links to free tests released from College Board and ACT that fit the three Rs. I’d recommend any of tests 5 through 8 for the SAT and test 1874F for the ACT as a first option. Each of the links is an external link, so if any are down, please let me know. 8
Ready to Take a Proctored Test to Decide Which Is Better?
Here are the Released Tests Satisfying the 3 RsA
The answer keys and scoring scales are included with the ACT and offered as an additional link for the SATs above. If you want a more detailed breakdown of your test, use our test submittal forms.