ACT vs SAT: Pros And Cons

Preparing for College in High School: A To-Do List for Eleventh Graders

Reality is that neither the SAT nor the ACT is intrinsically a better test than the other.

Which test should you take? The SAT or the ACT?  An already tough question even without the added wrench of the brand new SAT (premiering in March 2016) thrown into the equation. So if you are planning on taking standardized tests in the spring of next year or later, make sure you read on to the bottom of this post for special pros and cons concerning the Redesigned SAT. But if you are deep in the throes of the test prep battle right now and wondering what test you should take this fall or winter, boy, do we at Magoosh have some thoughts for you.

Now, everyone from the College Board to your Spanish teacher to your older brother is going to have an opinion on this one, but the reality is that neither the SAT nor the ACT is intrinsically a better test than the other. However, the majority of students do better on one test over the other, and so that means you need to figure out what’s the better test for you. Hopefully, the tips below will help you sort out which test more naturally aligns with your strengths, but if you haven’t already done so, you should also make sure to take a practice test of both (or compare your PSAT and PLAN scores). Don’t just make an assumption that either the SAT or ACT is the test for you; it would be a real shame to find out later on that your hunch was wrong.

On that note, let’s jump right into the pros and cons:

ACT Pro: Guess Away!

The ACT has never penalized students for wrong answers, which translates into a huge sigh of relief for students who fret over the decision of whether or not to answer or omit a question.

The playing field, however, will be leveled in this area when the new SAT arrives: on the new test, students will no longer lose points for wrong answers.

SAT Pro: Shorter Sections and Fewer Questions

For students whose attention spans are all over the place, the shorter sections of the current SAT can be really appealing. You won’t spend any more than 25 minutes staring at a particular group of questions. Compare this to the ACT, which has longer sections ranging from 35 minutes on the Science and Reading to 60 minutes on Math. The current SAT also has fewer questions overall than the ACT does. And when the new SAT arrives, it will have even fewer questions. Of course the tradeoff is that many of these questions will become a bit more complex, but if test fatigue is an issue for you, this might be a significant consideration.

ACT Con: Running Out of Time

The ACT has more questions to answer in less time than the SAT, and many students struggle to finish, which can be discouraging. This doesn’t necessarily mean the ACT isn’t the right test for you (it might just mean that you have to work on your time management and pacing strategies), but for students who consider themselves to be slower readers or who need more time to process information, this is a serious ding against the ACT.  

SAT Con: The Tricks

Most students find the SAT to be quite the tricky test, laying traps for students around every corner. For wise-guys and girls, however, this can actually add to the appeal of the SAT, making it as exciting as evading a minefield on a video game (well, almost.). The ACT, on the other hand, strikes students as being a lot more like what they see in school. The questions are more straightforward and the explanations for the right answer choice make a lot of sense.

ACT Pro: The Optional Essay

For students who do not feel confident as writers (and aren’t gunning for colleges that require the ACT essay), it can be a nice perk to have the writing be an optional component at the end of the test instead of a required component at the beginning vampiring your energy away. Less confident writers who do need to take the essay can seek solace in the fact that the essay is not factored into the all-important composite score. The SAT essay, on the other hand, makes up 30% of a student’s writing score. (But, again, this is another way in which the SAT will become much more ACT-like starting in March. On the Redesigned SAT, the essay will be optional.)

SAT Pro: Lower-Level Math

The ACT tests students on a few concepts that are typically introduced in an Algebra II/Trigonometry class: including basic trig, matrices, and logarithms. The current SAT sticks to algebra and geometry, although the new SAT will branch out to higher-level concepts, including fundamental trig.

ACT Con: The Science Test

Some students out there loooooove the Science test. But as a tutor, I’ve encountered far more that find it utterly perplexing and way too time-pressured. The Science test, despite its name, is not really so much about science at all, so even students in AP Chemistry can find themselves scratching their heads at questions on data trends and relationships. For many of these students, Science drags down their overall composite test scores, and it is not worth the time and energy for these students to prepare for such as strange test section.

SAT Con: More Complex Reading Passages

This is one thing that won’t change with the Redesigned SAT. Both the current and new SAT include more demanding reading passages: the vocabulary is harder, the syntax more sophisticated, and the ideas more nuanced. It doesn’t help that SAT passages are often dry and boring (Sorry, SAT). The ACT may not be a bucket of giggles, but its reading passages are typically more entertaining and informative.

And now….flash-forward to March 2016:

Redesigned SAT Con: Fear of the Unknown

The Redesigned SAT is pretty radically different than the current SAT, which means we are treading into uncharted territory. In fact, students who take the test in March 2016 won’t get their scores until after the May 2016 administration of the test. This means that this first batch of guinea pigs will be at a disadvantage in terms of making important decisions on retakes. And even though we now have some official practice material from the College Board to work with, it’s going to take some time for students, tutors, and test prep companies to truly crack the code of the new test.

Redesigned SAT Pro: Jumping Ahead of the Curve

We are speculating here, but given the unfamiliarity of the new test, it is possible that students who solidly prep for the new SAT and take one of the first administrations will have a bit of an advantage over those who don’t. In other words, these well-prepped students are the ones who will have set themselves up to affect the curve. Bear in mind that I am not anticipating any major  advantage here. The students who are likely to prep for the current SAT are the same students who are likely to prep full-force for the new SAT. Nevertheless…savvy students are hoping for the best.

Redesigned SAT Con: More Complicated Questions

When we at Magoosh look at the new SAT math questions, we find that, while we used to be able to do pretty much everything in our heads, it would be really difficult to do so the new SAT. There are simply too many parts. And for students who find themselves reaching for their calculator on every problem, there’s an even bigger monster lurking: a calculator-free section. This means that students will not be able to rely as much on traditional test prep strategies such as plugging in numbers to solve a problem (well, at least not without a bunch of calculations), and instead will need to demonstrate true understanding of mathematical concepts and find ways to get around complex calculations. And no one is going to buy your “my monster ate my calculator” excuse.

Redesigned SAT Pro: No Testing of Difficult Vocabulary

Vocabulary flashcards have been a trusted friend of the dutiful SAT student for just about forever. But the new SAT will no longer routinely test students on obscure and challenging vocabulary words. There will still be some testing of vocabulary, but this will all occur within the context of reading passages. So sayonara, sentence completions.

Back to the Question…

Increasingly, more and more students are solving the perplexing dilemma of SAT vs. ACT by not making a decision at all. Instead, they are simply taking both tests. But while there are certainly situations in which taking both test might be the right option for you, for many students, it isn’t. Taking both the SAT and ACT means dividing your energy, not to mention more Saturday mornings in a test prep center. So do everything you can to weigh the pros and cons, take practice tests to compare, maybe do a bit of practice on both, and then dive full-force into the test that is best for you.

The Guide to Preparing for College in High School - free guide

magooshBy Kristin Fracchia from Magoosh Test PrepKristin creates awesomely fun ACT lessons and practice materials for Magoosh students. With a PhD from UC Irvine and degrees in Education and English, she’s been working in education since 2004 and has helped students prepare for standardized tests, as well as college and graduate school admissions, since 2007. She enjoys the agonizing bliss of marathon running, backpacking, hot yoga, and esoteric knowledge.

Related Resources:

• 5 Fatal Flaws to Avoid in Your College Application Essays
• Why Is The SAT Scored From 600 To 2400?
• College Application Tips for Parents

Catching Up With M2 At Philadelphia College Of Osteopathic Medicine

Read other med student interviews here!This interview is the latest in an blog series featuring interviews with med school applicants and students. And now for a follow up interview with Danielle Ward, a second-year med student at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine – Georgia Campus. We first met Danielle last year – you can read our first interview with her here.)

Accepted: It’s been over a year since we last spoke. Can you bring us up to speed? How was your first year of med school?

Danielle: The year flew by so fast!!!! Medical school was a huge adjustment at first getting used to the heavy course load, and the term of everything neuro-related was definitely a struggle, but I survived! I just can’t stress enough how happy I am to wake up every day knowing that I am on the path to pursuing my dreams. I started my second year of classes today, and knowing hospital rotations are now only a year away, and that this is my last official year ever of classroom learning has me on cloud nine!

Interestingly enough, even though I was super busy just trying to stay afloat my first year, I somehow managed to stay involved in a bit of everything else too. I was able to keep up with my weekly blog posts (for the most part), became a Student Ambassador for my school, was appointed as the Student National Medical Association‘s 2015-16 National Co-Chair of Osteopathic Medical Schools during their annual conference this past April in New Orleans, and I became Director of Articles & Blogs for DiverseMedicine Inc.

My first year of medical school was very good to me, and I am hoping that this year will be even better.

Accepted: What’s your favorite thing about Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine? 

Danielle: My absolute favorite thing about attending Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine – Georgia Campus is the fact that I am surrounded by a group of amazing people every day. I am lucky to belong to a class where everyone tends to genuinely care about and help each other, and I love being surrounded by like-minded individuals who all share a similar goal of becoming physicians. I also probably would not have been as successful my first year if it weren’t for some of my classmates’ support in the form of helping with studying, babysitting, or pushing me to work even harder and believe that I could actually make it through.

As for the school in general, I love the faculty (they really do care about us doing well) and the location. Atlanta has so much to do, and it’s nice not being directly in the city and having to deal with traffic, but a plus being close enough to where you can get away for a little break if needed.

Accepted: If you could change anything about the program, what would it be?

Danielle: At the moment, there really isn’t anything I can think of about the program that I would change. I feel like they do a great job preparing us, but if I had it my way I would get rid of group assignments, days when we have mandatory lectures, and it would be nice if the school had a dedicated board exam study period. That’s just me being nit-picky though, because I respect and understand why certain things are the way they are, and I really don’t have a problem with them not being changed.

Accepted: What’s the greatest challenge you’ve faced in med school? How would you advise entering first-year students who may also encounter that challenge?

Danielle: That’s a hard question! I guess the greatest challenge I’ve faced would be self-doubt. There were so many times when I thought I wasn’t going to make it through my first year, and the fear of failing would always pop up in my head every now and then. I learned that many other students (both pre-medical and medical) deal with the same struggle, so I made a blog post about this a while back. It can be found here, and it details the challenge and the lessons I learned from my experience.

Accepted: What are some things you’ve learned since completing your first year of med school?

Danielle: I wrote a super long blog post last month titled “50 Things I Learned During My First Year of Medical School” that highlights pretty much everything I learned as a first year medical student. I’m sure I probably missed a thing or two, but I’ve received so much great feedback on it from students about to start medical school and even current medical students. I guess no matter the school, we all share some of the same struggles!

Accepted: Before you started med school, you had said you were considering a future in surgery. Has that changed?

Danielle: My desire to pursue surgery is stronger than ever! Being a medical student and holding positions with SNMA and DiverseMedicine Inc., I have had the chance to network with some amazing physicians in the field of surgery as well as other fields. I also serve as an officer in the GA-PCOM Surgery Club this year, so you can definitely see that my views have not changed.

During the third term of my first year of medical school, I participated in the Perry Initiative Medical Student Outreach Program in Orthopaedic Surgery that was hosted by Emory University in Atlanta. It was an amazing experience that included talks from female orthopedic surgery attendings, hands-on activities with real power tools and bone models, and a Q&A session with female residents in the Emory program. I’m still keeping my options open on what surgical subspecialty I want to pursue until I hit rotations, but I definitely make sure that I am involved when it comes to anything that is surgery related.

I also had the opportunity to shadow an anesthesiologist during my summer break, and I was able to view a variety of surgeries. I love being in the OR, and as a medical student, it was really fun being asked questions by the physicians and actually knowing the answers to them. It definitely boosted my confidence because with the large amount of information that was thrown at us during our first year, I really thought that I hadn’t retained anything, LOL. This year, I am going to really focus on fully learning all the material presented so that I can perform well on my board exams and have a choice over surgical subspecialties for residency. Fingers crossed!

Accepted: Do you have any tips on home/school balance?

Danielle: The best tip I can offer on balancing life with medical school is mastering the art of time management!!!!! It’s so easy to get completely consumed with school that you end up putting off everything else and becoming miserable. Fortunately, as a single parent, I don’t have the option of only focusing on school since I have to make time for my daughter on a daily basis. She really does keep me grounded.

Last year, I always made sure I took one day a week to do absolutely nothing school-related (with the exception of exam weeks), and it really helped refresh my mind. I also recommend doing the same at least two hours every day. Studying non-stop will only burn you out, and it will be less tempting to waste time on social networks or other distractions when you’re supposed to be studying if you take a little time to get it out of your system. As for other tips, you can find my full blog post on improving study habits here.

You can read more about Danielle’s journey by checking out her blog, Aspiring Minority Doctor. Thank you Danielle for continuing to share your story with us!

Do you want to be featured in’s blog, Accepted Admissions Blog? If you want to share your med school journey with the world (or at least with our readers), email us at

5 Fatal Flaws to Avoid in Your Med School Essays - Download your free guide!

Accepted: The Premier Admissions Cosultancy

Related Resources:

Navigate the Med School Maze [Free Guide]
• Attn Med Applicants: A Class Is Matriculated Every Single Year [Podcast]
• 5 Mistakes To Avoid During M1

Tips for Answering the University of Pennsylvania Supplemental Essay Prompts

Want more school-specific common application supplemental essay tips?

“Ideal candidates are inspired to emulate our founder Benjamin Franklin”

This post about the University of Pennsylvania supplement to the Common Application is part of a series of posts written to help you complete the 2016 Common Application supplement for Ivy League and other top schools. 

The University of Pennsylvania, or Penn, is among the prestigious Ivy League schools. Established in 1740, Penn is one of the oldest universities in America. It is known for its top-notch research as well as its undergraduate programs that focus on practical applications grounded in a strong liberal arts foundation. It accepts the Common Application and requires an additional Penn writing supplemental. Penn wants to know more about you in order to gain a more holistic view of you as a potential student. It states: “ideal candidates are inspired to emulate our founder Benjamin Franklin by applying their knowledge in ‘service to society.’” Through your Common Application, the admissions committee is aware of your grades and test scores, and understands the level of rigor in your curriculum within the context of your high school environment. Use the supplemental essay as an opportunity to demonstrate how you are an ideal match for Penn and how Penn will help you to accomplish your life goals. Illustrate how you engage with and think about the world around you. Tell them more about what is important to you!

Penn offers a binding early decision option with a November 1st deadline. Consider this option if Penn is your first choice because the rate of admission is higher during early decision. In addition, if you have family alumni ties to Penn early decision may be the best approach. Alumni affiliation receives the most consideration during the early decision program. You are allowed to apply early decision to Penn and early action to other non-binding or non-restrictive early action programs. Always check with the specific schools for guidelines.

Before you sit down to begin writing your essay, do your research to learn as much as possible about Penn’s approach to education. Familiarize yourself with the unique character of the school, go through the website, get a sense of the campus and academic atmosphere, and if possible visit the campus, speak with current students, and imagine yourself as a student at Penn.

Located in the city of Philadelphia, Penn offers an exceptional education in a diverse urban setting on a primarily residential campus. Penn provides many opportunities for students to investigate various areas of interest. The numerous learning hubs are an example of how it fosters an active and dynamic exploration of ideas. Think about how you fit with this approach and the overall academic climate at Penn.

Penn is steeped in tradition. Although the curriculum at Penn is flexible, it is grounded in a high quality liberal arts and science foundation. The four undergraduate schools (College of Arts and Science, Penn Engineering, School of Nursing, and the Wharton school) pride themselves on providing an integrated and functional education. “Penn students combine theoretical and practical thinking while developing the tools they need to innovate and lead in a world that demands an increasingly broad perspective.”

Penn Writing Supplement:

How will you explore your intellectual and academic interests at the University of Pennsylvania? Please answer this question given the specific undergraduate school to which you are applying. (400-650 words)

What are your intellectual and academic interests? Don’t be afraid to show your excitement but ground it in specifics as it relates to the education at Penn. This prompt allows you to discuss how you hope the undergraduate options at Penn can help you explore your interests and how an education at Penn will help you to flourish. Consider why you are a good fit for the undergraduate school of your choice (College of Arts and Sciences, School of Nursing, The Wharton School, or Penn Engineering). What specific academic, service, and/or research opportunities might enhance your journey? Include examples of how your experiences make the programs at Penn a good fit for you. How will the opportunities at Penn expand, nurture, and support your interests and aspirations? How do you hope to contribute to the collegiate environment at Penn? Consider how you might positively impact the overall Penn campus community. You need to address why you are driven to attend Penn and how a Penn education will help you to affect change in the world.

Note that additional essays are required if you are applying to one of the Coordinated Dual Degree and Specialized Programs offered at Penn (Huntsman: The Huntsman Program in International Studies and Business, LSM: The Roy and Diana Vagelos Program in Life Sciences and Management, M&T: The Jerome Fisher Program in Management and Technology, NHCM: Nursing and Healthcare Management, VIPER:  The Roy and Diana Vagelos Integrated Program in Energy Research, NETS:  The Rajendra and Neera Singh Program in Networked and Social Systems Engineering, and The Seven-Year Bio-Dental Program). These responses have limits that range from 400 to 650 words. Although these individual prompts are not addressed in detail here, keep in mind that each one asks you to share specific examples and experiences that demonstrate your potential for success along with your enthusiasm for and attraction to the particular program. These programs are a significant commitment and you need to convey your genuine dedication. The admissions committee uses your essays to determine whether you will be a good fit for the particular dual degree or specialized program to which you seek admission.

You are up against an extremely competitive group of applicants. Penn received 37,267 undergraduate applications for the class of 2019. Only 3,697, or 9.9%, were offered admission (5,489 applied early decision and 1,316, or 23.9% were admitted). Over 90% of the students admitted were in the top 10% of their high school class with average SAT scores of 720 in critical reading, 735 in math, 735 in writing and an average ACT score of 32. The best way to differentiate yourself from the crowd is by communicating the intangibles through your essays. Use your essay responses to discuss what is meaningful to you and how Penn is the ideal place for you to achieve your dreams for the future.

Try not to be intimidated by this process. Start early to allow yourself enough time to thoroughly research, prepare, and complete all aspects of your application. All these factors must come together in a compelling way to present you as a highly competitive applicant. Penn is interested in your personal stories, life experiences, hopes and aspirations. It seeks to attract and foster great thinkers and future leaders who will play a constructive role in society. Take the time and invest the energy to put your best self forward!

5 Fatal Flaws to Avoid in Your College Application - Download your copy today!

Marie Todd By Accepted’s college admissions specialist. Marie has worked in college admissions for over twenty years. She has both counseled applicants and evaluated applications. Most recently she evaluated 5000+ applications for the University of Michigan’s College of Literature, Science and the Arts; College of Engineering; School of Kinesiology. She is available to assist you (or your child) with your applications.

Related Resources:

• Tips for Answering Common Application Essay Prompts
• Beyond Tests Scores and GPA: How to Wow College Application Readers
7 Signs an Experience Belongs in Your Application Essay

Muddled Thinking: Med School Application Flaw #5

5 Fatal Flaws to avoid in your Med applications - Download today!

Don’t write what you think the admissions committee wants to read -write what you want them to know!

“Muddled Thinking” is the final post in our series, 5 Fatal Flaws to Avoid in Your Medical School Essays.

I am not sure why I made muddled thinking the last flaw. Good writing starts with good thinking and ends with lots of editing, but editing is a topic for another series. Let’s stick with thinking in this tip. One of the biggest causes of muddled thinking: Writing what you think the admissions committee wants to read as opposed to what you want them to know. In fact, most admissions committee members believe that is the most common mistake applicants make.

A point to consider: When adcoms receive thousands of essays, each one enumerating the A-Z of what applicants think their readers want to hear, it can get boring, not to mention annoying. The person who writes, “I am a 24-year old Indian male Engineering major who graduated Summa Cum Laude, participates in quizzes, and plays cricket,” is impressive, but needs to pep it up a bit. Even someone who doesn’t possess a heavily-represented profile can’t simply rely on the facts. “I am a goat shepherding woman from the Chilean coast,” sure is unusual, but unless you continue and express HOW that strengthens your candidacy as a student at a top med school, then it’ll sound just as drab as the first example to the exhausted person reading your essay.

You want to write what adcoms want to hear? Fine. Answer their questions keeping in mind that they want to hear about YOU, about your individual experiences, about what makes you tick. This is not the place to reel off your accomplishments (they belong in your resume) or to discuss your professional or ethnic profile. Your essay is where you transform from being the straight-A, leadership-driven, analytical graduate school applicant number 658, to a person, a human being. With a voice. With a passion. And with something important to say.

Much of making a compelling case depends on making connections. A connection between your past and your present. Or your present and your future. Your interests and your activities. Your passions and your commitments. Those connections reflect clear thinking and propel persuasive writing. An inability to connect the dots of your life creates doubts and questions in the reader’s mind. And when in doubt, the easiest step for a harried reader at a school receiving five or more applications for every seat in a class is to DENY.

Before you put pen to paper or finger to keyboard, think about what you want to say clearly and critically. Your dreams are important. As I said in “Lack of Substance,” examine your head and your heart. Just make sure your head is in good working order when it listens to your heart.

Avoid Fatal Flaw #5: Think clearly and honestly before beginning to write.

5 Fatal Flaws to Avoid in Your Med School Essays - Download your free guide!

Accepted: The Premier Admissions Cosultancy

Related Resources:

• The Quick Guide to Admissions Resumes [Free Guide]
• Getting Into Medical School: Advice from a Pro [Podcast]
• Nine Ways To Get Rejected From Medical School

Watch Words: Advice For M3 Students

Watch our webinar- Residency Applications: How to Match

Take notes now! Your personal statement will be richer when seasoned with these personal details.

In the past, I’ve blogged about keeping a diary during your rotations. Here are three things you can watch for during your rotations that will get you in great shape for later:

1. Watch your attendings. What did your attending do today that struck you? This can be anything, from observing how they reacted to a patient’s nonverbal cues or defused an upset family member’s anger to noting how they communicated relevant information to other health professionals. Describe the details so you can recall them later. If what you saw today differed from what you’ve seen in other rotations, think about whether it’s due to the specialty or just this individual’s style. And make critical judgments – did anything you saw about this physician or today’s tasks make you think about the kind of doctor you want to be?

2. Watch your patients. Observe how patients and their family members respond – do they ever surprise you? Which cases really piqued your interest? You may already be keeping a case log; if so, that will help supply the medical side when you want to write about specific patients. But your personal statement will be richer when seasoned with personal details that aren’t recorded in case logs.

3. Watch yourself. Since what you write is private, use this space courageously. What did you do well? What did you do not so well? What were the things that interested you and what bored you silly? Not only can this help you to critically evaluate your educational progress, but it can also give you some insights into your future. What is pushing you towards certain specialties and away from others? How are your actions today helping you to envision the kind of doctor that you hope to be?

Three things to watch for now, ensuring that you’ll have less clock-watching to do as deadlines approach.

5 Fatal Flaws to Avoid in Your Residency Personal Statement - Download your copy today!

Cydney Foote By , Accepted consultant and author of Write Your Way to Medical School, who has helped future physicians craft winning applications since 2001.


Related Resources:

• Residency Applications: How to Match [Free On-Demand Webinar]
Dear Diary: A Residency Admissions Tip for Third-Year Medical Students
• How Many Residency Programs Do Med Students Apply To? (The Answer Is Higher Than You’d Think!)