The Fat Envelope
A Discussion Of All Things College Admissions and Test Prep
In my tutoring business, I'm occasionally asked to help a student prepare for both the SAT and ACT.  There's a growing trend nationwide for students, especially those aiming for very selective schools, to take both tests.  A recent Kaplan survey of college admissions officers indicated that some colleges looked favorably on students taking both tests.  But the overwhelming majority (79%) said that submitting both tests was not necessary.  Further, a recent New York Times article quotes Harvard's Dean of Admissions admissions officer:

"We see a lot of test results between the ACT, the SAT, the subject tests, Advanced Placement and the International Baccalaureate," he added, "so it doesn't concern us at all whether students send the SAT, the ACT or both."

My take on that is that kids are submitting plenty of test data already, so taking both the SAT and ACT is overkill.  So why does the myth of multiple tests persist?

One possible factor is that students think they should take both tests to figure out which one they prefer.  I'm all for this in theory, but why would you spend the money to take the real thing when a freely available practice test to take at home will do?  Test taking is pricey ($51 for the SAT; $52.50 for the ACT with Writing), and it's just not a smart use of money to use the "real deal" as a practice test.

Peer pressure is also certainly at play, as well as fear of leaving some stone unturned.  The perception that college admission is a blood sport can force students, and parents, into thinking that taking only one of the tests could be a lost opportunity.  However, as noted above, most college admissions officers don't feel that taking both tests is a real advantage.  Further, many students who take both tests submit the results of only one of them in the end.  

Another, admittedly cynical, view is that tutoring companies and tutors themselves are encouraging the trend out of self-interest.  Two tests means more hours with one student.  This means more income.  I do my best to help students choose their best exam before doing any formal preparation.  It saves time, money and stress to focus on only one exam.  I would only recommend prepping both tests in very exceptional circumstances.  If the tutor or company you're considering is pushing both tests, ask for more information before committing to that plan.

In the end, choosing a test and sticking with it is a good thing.  You can thank me later!
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