Many people start off their prep by taking both tests, or a diagnostic test. If you’ve done this, this article will help you work out how to interpret your results. I know that many diagnostic tests provide some interpretation of their results, and some guidance about which test you should take based on your results, but here’s what I would say to you if you’re trying to interpret your diagnostic test, or your scores on a practice ACT and SAT.
What even is a diagnostic test?
Diagnostic tests are basically shortened versions of a real test. They contain all the same types of questions as the real tests. Some companies sell these as the introduction to their prep schemes. This is definitely a good idea, but you should also know how to get the most out of the test.
A warning: My biggest concern about diagnostic tests or just taking both the SAT and ACT without studying is that there are many things that can cause your score to be a poor reflection of your potential score if you’re unprepared for the test. You could forget a small formula, for example. You could miss the point of a whole passage just because it wasn’t what you were expecting. Mistakes like this will make your 4+ hours writing the tests completely useless. You should absolutely definitely familiarize yourself a little with the tests (2-4 hour study on each one) before you rely on a score from a diagnostic test. This is not common advice, but I strongly believe in it, and it’s what I do with all my students.
Some pointers for starting your study:
- Look at the summary sections for the ACT and SAT.
- Know how much time you have! Be aware that the ACT reading and scientific reasoning are tough on time
- Practice ACT Scientific Reasoning. It’s different to anything you’ve seen before. If you’re trying to figure it out in the middle of your diagnostic, you’ll do worse than if you know about it beforehand
- Get some formula sheets for the Math sections – or make one from your math notes. You need to know things like slope of a line, area of triangles, sine and cosine law etc
- Expect data based reasoning on the SAT Reading. It can be a little weird the first time you see it, but you’ll get used to it
I’ve already taken the diagnostic, what should I do?
Firstly, compare your scores. I’ve got an article that nicely explains the College Board’s concordance table (currently the only thing that you can use to compare scores). You should note that the ACT has officially disagreed with this document, but right now it’s the only thing out there that compares the ACT with both the old and new SAT.
If you score much better on one test than the other then your decision is easy. I would define ‘much better’ if your ACT score is more than 3 points higher than your converted SAT score, or if your SAT score is more than 80 points higher than your converted ACT score. If, like most students, the difference is not that large, then you really need to consider which test you prefer, or which you’d find easier to study for.
If you’ve found this helpful, I suggest you read my comparison of the ACT and SAT to give you more information.