The Four Major SAT/ACT Myths

Brian Smith

B.A. Economics and International Relations, UC Davis

Myth #1: Colleges have a preference between the SAT and the ACT.

Truth: The vast majority of colleges will accept either the SAT or the ACT interchangeably. Also, they will require one or the other but not both.

Origin: This myth has kernels of truth to it, as this did use to be the case. Since the ACT is based in Iowa, for a long time Midwestern Colleges preferred it to the SAT, and Coastal Schools preferred SAT simply because that’s what they knew. This however, is no longer the case.

Myth #2: The SAT and ACT are Intelligence Tests.

Truth: They are definitely not. The SAT and ACT both teach specific, learnable concepts that students can learn and dramatically improve their scores on. Having a higher intelligence (whatever that means) certainly helps, but it is by no means what the tests are assessing.

Origins: This is one of, if not the most, harmful myths out there, as it conveys the impression that a student is “stuck” with whatever score they begin with. This myth arises because seeing significant improvement takes continued and tailored effort over a long period of time, and if students fail to do that properly, they give up and chalk up their failure to “not being smart enough,” rather than, “I didn’t work hard (or effectively) enough.”

Myth #3: It is better to take the SAT/ACT on certain dates rather than others.

Truth: It doesn’t matter, as scores are standardized across different test dates.

Origin: The most common version of this myth is that Juniors should take their first SAT or ACT in January/February, as most seniors will be done and so they will not “affect the curve”. This reasoning comes from confusing standardized test curving with how school tests are curved based on how the highest performer does. This is not how standardized test curving works.

Myth #4: It is better to leave a question blank than guess.

Truth: There is no “guessing penalty” on either the SAT or the ACT, and students should never leave a question on either test blank.  

Origin: The old 2400 SAT used to have a guessing penalty, but the new one did not carry that policy over. The only “major” standardized tests that still have guessing penalties are the SAT Subject Tests and the SSAT (A high school entrance exam, basically the SAT but for private high schools).

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