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Planning to attend an engineering college or major in engineering? The two entrance exams, the SAT and ACT, will become your best friends, along with those No. 2 pencils.

Below are common questions from high school students planning to take the exams and seeking tips on preparing for college.

Do I take the SAT or the ACT?
The SAT exam is comprised of three sections: critical reading, mathematics and a required writing test. The ACT has more components – English, math, reading, science and an optional writing test. Check if the college you would like to attend requires the optional test. The ACT is scored on a scale from 1 to 36, and the SAT combines the scores of each section, resulting in the highest possible score of 2400.

Neither test is easier (or harder) than the other, and there’s a myth that some colleges have a preference. All colleges prefer high scores, regardless of the exam. Take the exam that caters to your knowledge and academic strengths.

Take the SAT if:

  • Words are your thing. The SAT has a strong emphasis on vocabulary.
  • You use logical reasoning to solve math problems and reading comprehension passages. The SAT does not ask straightforward questions, requiring out-of-the-box thinking to solve.
  • You can move back and forth between subjects such as math, writing and critical reading without a problem. Going from one subject to another keeps you energized and doesn’t confuse you.
  • You need frequent breaks. The SAT is administered in manageable chunks with time in between ten sections.

Take the ACT if:

  • You can problem solve. You don’t need to know advanced chemistry concepts, but the ACT does test reading and reasoning skills based on presented facts.
  • You perform well in high school academic courses. This exam measures high school curriculum concepts.
  • You may be a math wizard or you know algebra I and II, geometry, pre-calculus, and trigonometry. The math section is not necessarily harder, but the questions are more straightforward than the SAT.
  • You prefer questions that are direct and do not require out-of-the-box thinking.
  • You are focused, have “sitting power” and can go through material without distraction. This will really help on the ACT, because time management is key. Sections require 60 minutes for 60 questions, so if you spend a lot of time on one question, you may fall behind with the rest.


How do I prepare for the SAT or the ACT?
Both exams are geared toward students preparing for college and emulate college course work, so don’t even think about cramming for them. There aren’t any shortcuts. Mastery of the concepts will allow you to practice and obtain a high score.

There are many third-party resources such as Princeton Review and Kaplan that offer tutorials, tips and practice tests. It can be helpful to use these resources, because they mimic the actual test scenarios. However, practicing with materials offered by the testing organization (i.e., College Board) is the best method; once these resources have been exhausted, students can utilize other publishers.


Are college test prep courses worth it?
Some students perform better in a classroom setting with an instructor while others can practice on their own. The key is to understand how you study best. Take the prep classes if you feel that you can benefit. Students should take cost into consideration for these courses, as they can be expensive. Keep in mind that taking a college test prep course does not guarantee a high score. Ultimately, a high score depends on your mastery of the material.


Should I retake the SAT/ACT?
If you are unhappy with your scores and feel that you can do better, the best approach is to review the topics in which you scored low and retake the test. After the second time, it is not advised to take the test again. There is no evidence suggesting that scores significantly improve by taking the exam multiple times.


Note: New SAT will be administered in March 2016, which will change some of this information.

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