3 Reasons Why Taking the SAT and ACT Might be a Waste of Time and Money

taking both sat and act is biggest mistake

This article was originally published on February 20, 2017, and was updated in 2019.

When parents tell me their children are taking both the SAT and the ACT, my response often shocks them…

“Really? What a waste of time and money!”

On their own, the SAT and ACT aren’t a waste of time or money. But taking BOTH the SAT AND the ACT isn’t the right choice.

In fact, this ends up costing you way more money and taking up more time than it’s worth.

Preparing for college can be hard enough without the extra pressure of preparing for multiple entrance exams.

I wrote this article to not only help your teen avoid some of this stress – but to save valuable time and money, too.

Here are three reasons why taking both the SAT and ACT might be a big waste of time and money:

1. Colleges accept either test

Colleges don’t prefer one over the other! Yep – it’s true.

Decades ago, some colleges required the SAT while other colleges required the ACT. This meant college-bound teens in the 80’s would take either the SAT or the ACT based on where they were applying.

Now, college-bound teens can focus on taking the test that’s best for them because all colleges will accept both the SAT and the ACT – great news for high school students who have enough on their plate already!

2. Teens usually perform better on one test

Rather than taking both tests, I suggest students stick with the test that’s best for them. (More on choosing the right test later…)


It’s likely the score on one test will be higher than on the other.

Now you might be asking, “but won’t I want to be able to choose the better of the two results?”

But here’s the thing: some colleges request ALL test scores.

In those cases, a student may not want to reveal all of their results!

The best way to avoid sending unfavorable test scores is to take the test that will yield the highest score for the individual student.

3. Taking both tests takes too much time

Let’s say your teen is planning on taking both the SAT and the ACT. They also want to retake one or both tests.

There isn’t enough time!

The testing calendars don’t easily accommodate taking each test more than once.

A high school junior who’s planning to take both tests twice during 11th grade could have a testing schedule that looks something like this:  

6 weeks of SAT prep

November – Take first SAT

January – Retake SAT

6 weeks of ACT prep

April – Take first ACT

June – Retake ACT

You know what I think when I look at this testing schedule?

Junior year is far too important to the spend majority of time prepping for standardized tests!

Don’t you agree?

And don’t forget about the SAT II

Your teen might also have a couple of colleges on their list that request 2 SAT Subject Tests.

The 20 available SAT Subject Tests are also referred to as SAT II — and they’ve only been around since 2005.

College Boards write the SAT Subject Tests AND the Advanced Placement exams. So, when students take an AP course, they’re preparing not only for the AP exam, but also for a similar SAT Subject Test.

If a student has AP exams in May, they’d be better off forgoing the May SAT and taking 2 SAT Subject Tests in June instead.

How to decide between the SAT and ACT

Ultimately, decisions about when to take the SAT or ACT and/or SAT Subject Tests must make sense for the teen’s test-taking abilities and college list options. That’s why doing your research ahead of time and getting to know both tests is essential.

And plenty of help is available for this process.

To discover whether the SAT or ACT would be the right choice (and how to ace either one!), don’t miss these articles:

What sophomores must know about the SAT and ACT
Best tips for Acing the ACT or SAT
When to Retake the ACT

Need a little more guidance?

For one-on-one support and other resources to help you or your child get into (or pay) for college click here.

When is the AP Exam necessary?

advanced placement exam

Parents often ask me about the importance of taking Advanced Placement courses and the end-of-course AP exams. My best answer is that “it depends” . . . 

How many Advanced Placement courses?

vanderbilt engineering and music programsWhen parents ask me about how many advanced placement courses their teen should take, they are really asking me how many courses their teen should take to “look good” to colleges. Advanced placement courses are about taking a rigorous course load in high school to signal that a student would be academically successful in college. 

Rather than “looking good” to colleges, I believe that students should take the level of courses that are most appropriate for them personally and be true to what their interests are. If a college admits you only because of AP courses you took, it doesn’t say much for how you will fit or thrive at that college.

A reasonable number of AP courses to take is relative to the number of AP courses that your high school offers. Colleges understand that the number of AP courses available vary by high school. If a school offers no AP courses, then students aren’t expected to have AP courses on their transcript. On the other hand, if a high school has a lot of AP courses available, then students should make an effort to take a few AP courses. For example, if a high school offers 10 AP courses and students can take AP courses starting in junior year, then it’s reasonable to have about 3 to 5 AP courses on your transcript. Those AP courses should be in appropriate areas of academic strength for the student . . . if a student is weak in math, it doesn’t make sense to take the AP Calculus courses just for the sake of “looking good” to colleges.

How important is it to take the AP Exam?

In most cases, the AP Exam is not used in college admissions. The exams that students take for college admissions are either the SAT or the ACT. Scores on the AP Exam are most often used to determine the level of courses taken in college. Every college sets its own policies to grant credit for AP level course. For example, at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, a non-engineering student who scores a 4 or 5 on the AP Statistics exam could get 3 credit hours for the Math 1010: Probability and Statistical Inference course. Also, the credit for AP exam scores may not apply towards a major in that same subject area. Complicated, huh?

I have heard many college students say that they regret using their AP credit because they could have benefitted from having that first level course at the college level. 

Where I find the AP exam helpful to take is in preparation for an SAT Subject Test. The AP courses are mostly aligned with SAT Subject Tests. If a student, for example, is taking AP US History (APUSH) and plans to take the SAT Subject Test in American History, then it could be good preparation to take the AP US History exam in May and the SAT Subject Test in American History in June!

When are the 2019 AP exams scheduled?

Here’s a schedule of when the AP exams are scheduled in 2019.

AP Test Schedule: Week 1

May 6, 2019
  • United States Government and Politics
  • Chinese Language and Culture
  • Environmental Science
May 7, 2019
  • Seminar
  • Spanish Language and Culture
  • Japanese Language and Culture
  • Physics 1: Algebra-Based
May 8, 2019
  • English Literature and Composition
  • European History
  • French Language and Culture
May 9, 2019
  • Chemistry
  • Spanish Literature and Culture
  • German Language and Culture
  • Psychology
May 10, 2019
  • United States History
  • Computer Science Principles
  • Physics 2: Algebra-Based

AP Test Schedule: Week 2

May 13, 2019
  • Biology
  • Physics C: Mechanics
  • Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism
May 14, 2019
  • Calculus AB
  • Calculus BC
  • Art History
  • Human Geography
May 15, 2019
  • English Language and Composition
  • Italian Language and Culture
  • Macroeconomics
May 16, 2019
  • Comparative Government and Politics
  • World History
  • Statistics
May 17, 2019
  • Microeconomics
  • Music Theory
  • Computer Science A
  • Latin

When do AP scores come out?

2019 AP scores will mostly be released in mid-July 2019 .

Good luck!

How is your teen preparing for AP exams?

3 SAT Myths that Every Junior Must Ignore

During this time of year when juniors are registering to take the SAT, there is a lot of misinformation about what they should should and should not do. Before you start your test prep or sign up to take the SAT take heed to these myths:

Myth #1 – It’s OK to take the SAT “cold”, i.e. as a practice testsat or act

REALITY: It’s a waste of your time and money to take any standardized test for the sake of seeing what your score will be! Students often assume this myth because they’ve heard that the colleges will only see certain scores. That really depends on the college where you apply. Likewise, on the Common Application, students self-report ALL test scores. When you sign the Common Application, you’re affirming that ALL information on the application is true.

Best BET: Take an online practice test to see your score, not an official test!

Myth #2 – It’s better to take the SAT than the ACT.

REALITY: All colleges will accept either test. Translation: Take the test that’s best for you. The SAT is different from the ACT, and usually students will score higher on one over the other.

BEST BET: Take a comparison test to find out which test fits you best! If you do not have access to a comparison test, you can also compare your PLAN and PSAT scores to determine which test is best.

Myth #3: I don’t need to take a Subject Test.

REALITY: Depending on where you’re applying and the major that interests you, 1 or 2 subject tests may be “Recommended.” (“Recommended” is another word for “Required”.) When it’s “Recommended” it is highly likely that the majority of applicants to that college will submit Subject Test scores. Unfortunately, when all competing applications include these Subject Test scores and your does not . . . OUCH!

BEST BET: Take Subject Tests that correspond to any Honors or Advanced Placement classes that you take during sophomore or junior year of high school. If you are enrolled in a Pre-Calculus course, then you should consider taking the Math II Subject Test at the least.

What Parents need to know about Advanced Placement (AP): Part 3 – The SAT Subject Test

SAT Subject Test

As mentioned in the first post of this series, the College Board develops the AP curriculum. Here are the 34 Advanced Placement courses available in high schools across the country:


 Art History Biology Calculus AB Calculus BC Chemistry
Chinese Lang and Culture Comp Science A English Lang and Composition English Lit and Composition Envir Science
European History French Lang and Culture German Lang and Culture Govt and Politics: Comparative Government and Politics: US
Human Geography Italian Lang and Culture Japanese Lang and Culture Latin Macroeconomics
Microeconomics Music Theory Physics B Physics C: Elec and Magnetism Physics C: Mechanics
Psychology Spanish Language Spanish Lit and Culture Statistics Studio Art: 2-D Design
Studio Art: 3-D Design Studio Art: Drawing US History World History


College Board runs the SAT, as well. Parents, SAT I is the reasoning that you may be familiar with. The SAT II, however, is a subject-area test that students can take. Students can use the SAT II to demonstrate advanced competency in a subject area. Here are the 21 available subject areas for the SAT II:

  • Literature
  • U.S. History
  • World History
  • Math Level 1
  • Math Level 2
  • Biology/EM
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • French
  • French with Listening
  • German
  • German with Listening
  • Spanish
  • Spanish with Listening
  • Modern Hebrew
  • Italian
  • Latin
  • Chinese with Listening
  • Japanese with Listening
  • Korean with Listening

Essentially, the SAT II is similar to the AP tests. For this reason, students can leverage their AP preparation by taking the SAT II in a similar subject area. Let’s say a student is taking the AP US History course. (Affectionately known as “A-Push.”) The AP test is administered in 2013 on May 15 at 8 am. (Many a student has cried over this test . . . it can be brutal!)

There is a May and June test date for SAT II. Thus this student can take the SAT II in US History either month. The SAT II is an hour-long test and students can take up to 3 tests on one date. I prefer that students take any SAT II on the June date instead and here’s why.

In short, the SAT test (whether I or II) can be draining. If a student takes the SAT in May, it’s likely that they won’t have much energy to do more studying that weekend. The AP tests begin that very next week so the AP tests may be short-changed. Also, the AP exam is generally longer than 1 hour. Students need to be well-rested and have the mental stamina in order to perform at their best on the AP tests.

I would argue that the SAT II (as a 1-hour exam) likely feels less taxing than its corresponding AP test. The student may even perform better on the SAT II after they’ve had the AP test experience. Likewise, if the student is also taking a second or third SAT II in a non-AP corresponding course, they would be able to complete more course content in the other subject area.

(See student’s biggest AP complaint.)

Taking 2 or 3 SAT II tests during the June date can save time, money, and effort. Yes, it probably seems like a lot but students will “know their stuff” even better by June date.

Please let us know if you have additional AP questions that were not covered in this three-part series.


What Parents need to know about Advanced Placement (AP): Part 2

SAT Subject Test

This posting is the second of a three-part series on What parents need to know about Advanced Placement (AP). . . but didn’t know to ask!

In last week’s posting, we addressed the #3 Most common response about AP. Now, for this week, we provide 2 tips to address the

#2 Most common response about AP

Tip 1: Read the fine print on AP credit granting

Every college is different when it comes to granting AP credit. If your teen is taking AP to advance in a topic area or challenge themselves, that’s a good thing. If your teen is merely taking AP for the sake of getting college credit, that’s a nuanced thing!

Bowdin College

Check out the language of AP credit from this college:

AP US History

Score: 4 or 5

*Must complete a History course at Bowdoin with a minimum grade of B. If a student has scores for more than one exam (ie. AP European History), only 1 total credit will be awarded.

Bowdoin received about 6,700 applications last year. So, it’s likely that of the 1M + high school students applying to college this year, that Bowdoin is not on your teen’s college list. Whatever college is on their list, please check the guidelines for granting AP credit. The guidelines vary by college and their website should provide the details for granting AP credit.


Tread carefully with skipping any introductory college course

In some cases, a student may be able to skip an introductory course if they earn a 3” or higher on an AP test.


Think about this option a bit more . . . .  It could actually work to the student’s disadvantage to skip an introductory college-level course. The introductory college courses are typically very different from your AP course in high school. (One of the reasons that AP is being revamped.) Skipping an introductory course can turn out to be a setback for the student’s GPA and confidence in freshman year.

Next week, we will cover part three of this three-part series on What parents need to know about Advanced Placement (AP) . . . but didn’t know to ask!

What Parents need to know about Advanced Placement (AP): Part 1

This posting is the first of a three part series on What parents need to know about Advanced Placement (AP). . . but didn’t know to ask!

I get a lot of questions about Advanced Placement (AP) from parents. This posting brings together my top 3 most common responses about AP. They are written as responses rather than questions because the questions are so varied. These posts capture what parents need to know, even when the question begs for more clarity. 🙂

#3 Most common response about AP

Advanced Placement is a fixed curriculum that was developed by College Board (same people behind the SAT) and delivered through high school teachers. The AP tests that students take during the first two weeks of May each year are based on the curriculum taught during the year. If there’s such a thing as “teaching to the test, then AP would be an example. Teaching to the test, in case of AP, is a measure of success. The results (scores of 1 to 5) are publicly reported each year and schools want to be recognized when students earn 3, 4 or 5 (the highest) score on these tests.

The biggest “complaint” I hear from students is that once the test ends, nothing is done in class for the remainder of the academic year. That’s not an issue if your school year ends in mid-May. However, when the school year ends in June, that’s a lot of wasted time. My hope is that students are exaggerating about what happens in classroom once the AP exams are taken.

Question to ask your teen in late May: How’s your AP class going? What are you doing in class?

Next week, we will cover part two of this three-part series on What parents need to know about Advanced Placement (AP) . . . but didn’t know to ask!

Ohio students average “3” on AP tests

The score range for AP scores is 1 to 5. When students score either a 3, 4, or 5, they can sometimes receive college credits and/or course equivalents. I say “sometimes” because each college has a different policy around how credit is granted for AP scores. For example, at The Ohio State University, students who score a 3 or 4 on the AP Physics B exam can earn 5 credits for the undergraduate Physics 111 course. However, at Bowdoin College, students who score a 4 or 5 on the AP Physics B exam must earn a C- or better in an undergraduate physics course before earning one credit. Brown University has department-specific policies for whether a credit is granted or not. Now, I must mention that there are a number of colleges that do not grant AP credit regardless of your score.

Whether Ohio students are taking AP courses for the learning experience or future college credit, their 2011 scores were mostly 1, 2, or 3, with an overall average score of 3.05. Twenty-two percent of AP test-takers earned a 4, while 17% earned a 5. The chart below shows the number of test-takers and the score earned:

About 60% of Ohio students scored a 3 or lower on AP tests in 2011

Best tips for Acing the ACT or SAT

There’s a great quote which states (paraphrased): “If you think you are, you are.” Research on test-taking confirms this statement. If you are nervous about your test performance (read, telling yourself “I’m not going to do well”), then it actually impairs your test performance. To ease their anxiety, students can follow these tips:

1. . . . teaching yourself in advance to think differently about the test, Dr. Driscoll says. Envision yourself in a situation you find challenging and invigorating; a soccer player might imagine scoring a goal, or a mountain climber might envision herself topping a ridge, he says. Then switch your mental image to the testing room and imagine yourself feeling the same way. With practice, you’ll be able to summon up more confidence on test day.

2. . . . reducing “novelty and stress on the day of the exam” can prevent choking under pressure, says Sian Beilock, a researcher and author on cognitive performance. If you are taking the exam in an unfamiliar place, visit the room in advance.

3. . . . setting aside 10 minutes beforehand to write down your worries, says Dr. Beilock, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Chicago. She and a fellow researcher tested 106 ninth-graders for anxiety before their first high-pressure exam, then asked half of them to spend 10 minutes writing down their thoughts right before the test. The anxious kids who did the writing exercise performed as well on the test as the students who had been calm all along. But anxious students who didn’t do the writing performed more poorly. Expressing one’s worries in writing, Dr. Beilock says, unburdens the brain.

via Toughest Exam Question: What Is the Best Way to Study? – WSJ.com.

Two additional pre-test tips that I constantly share with my students are getting a full-night’s rest before the test. So many teens have become accustomed to staying up late, that they don’t even realize the sub-optimal performance of doing so. My own teen is a great example of that! Secondly, eating oatmeal on the morning of the test also improves your performance. Even when my children were in elementary school, I would make oatmeal each morning of the testing period for achievement tests. I read about the research on oatmeal several years ago  and it still holds true.

New AP Exams Coming…Attention Class of 2013!

The Advanced Placement (AP) program has had a love-it-or-hate-it relationship with schools, teachers, and students for many years. At the same time that AP courses are cheered for providing a challenging curriculum for college readiness, it’s been jeered for being too reliant on rote memorization. College Board, the folks who created this program and make all that test fee revenue, will announce some long-awaited changes in its program.

AP Biology and AP US History changes in 2012-13

The new AP Biology course will emphasize more analytical thinking and hands-on experiments. This change will require many high schools to upgrade their science labs. For schools that are already cash-strapped, who knows how this is going to happen? Or what it will mean for the gap in test scores between under-resourced and well-funded schools? The AP Biology changes are definitely more in line with an overall trend in education to teach science as it’s used by scientists. The hope is that students will be more engaged and perhaps pique their interest to pursue more science knowledge.

AP US History has the largest number of test-takers at more that 380,000. Similar to the changes in AP Biology, AP US History will also feature more concepts in depth, rather than a broad survey of memorized facts.

Class of 2013 start planning NOW

Note in this NY Times article on the AP changes that a College Board official suggests that students should wait until senior year to take the exam if it can be done under the new program. That may sound good on paper, but less realistic in practice. Senior year, is a difficult year with college applications and numerous other time demands. Current sophomores should plan ahead now so that they are not overburdened with too many intensive courses in senior year, if their AP Bio course will be taken during senior year.