Why Relying on SAT vs. ACT “Combo/Comparison Tests” is the Riskiest Decision Parents Make in the College Process

Picking the right test is crucial.

We actively discourage students and parents from relying on any “SAT vs. ACT Combo/Comparison Tests” that are popular with some other companies and are administered at some high schools. These tests are risky at at best, or dishonest at worst, because they are abbreviated, half-length tests filled with inauthentic test questions written not by the actual SAT or ACT organizations, but by a random tutoring company.

Reasons to avoid “Combo/Comparison SAT vs. ACT” tests:

  1. The SAT and ACT are two completely different tests. While they have some foundational elements in common, differences in speed, content focus, test curve, cushion at the top of the curve and stamina make it impossible for a student to automatically “know” they’re better at a given test. There are different strategies for each test.
  2. Reading on the ACT is a speed test. There are four different genres: Prose Fiction, Social Studies, Humanities and Science. Unless all four genres are tested, the test can’t be valid. Your student may be a fantastic science reader on a literal science passage but struggle mightily with a Jane Austen prose passage.
  3. SAT math and ACT math are completely different. SAT math delves very, very deeply into a few narrow areas. ACT math covers pretty much everything through pre-calculus, but at a much broader and shallower level for each topic. There’s no way to accurately assess ACT math aptitude on a half-length test (20-30 questions) when there are literally 300+ math concepts that are fair game on any given ACT exam.
  4. A full-length ACT has 215 questions; a full-length SAT has 90 questions. Most comparison SAT vs. ACT tests are 60-70 questions for both tests combined. You wouldn’t judge Ohtani’s season based on the first game (4 at-bats). You can’t judge your full SAT and ACT acumen on a brief test either.
  5. Many of the organizations won’t give back copies of the comparison tests they administer. Why? Ask for a copy of the test. If we can get a copy, we can dissect it further. Companies don’t want to be called out on the test questions they put together, so they label it “proprietary” to keep it obscured.
  6. There is no way that any company can correlate non-SAT questions to non-ACT questions in order to give you an accurate SAT/ACT concordance. First, the questions aren’t authentic. Second, the sample size the companies use when creating the test is too small, likely under 1,000 students. By comparison, to create the real concordance data, the SAT and ACT organizations used data from 300,000+. The SAT and ACT literally spend over $2 million calibrating each single test, so Bob’s Local Tutoring Shop has no hope of making a test that’s even remotely accurate.
  1. The SAT and ACT are changing too quickly for the big-box companies who distribute these comparison tests to keep up. The actual SAT and ACT tests change with each cycle. The large test prep companies change these inauthentic comparison tests once every three years–IF that.
  2. The genesis of these tests is that students are looking for a shortcut to avoid having to take two baseline tests (one for SAT, one for ACT). Savvy parents and counselors know better. This is a life-changing decision. Are you a sprinter (ACT) or a cross-country runner (SAT)? Take the full 5.5 hours to determine the best path for your child’s future. Shortcuts jeopardize selecting the correct test.
  3. In tutoring over 23,000 students, probably 2,000+ have brought us scores from these comparison tests that we have then compared against real full-length ACT and SAT mock tests. Our experience shows that using the combo test to determine the naturally stronger test for a given student is roughly as accurate as flipping a coin. If a student is too busy and insists on not taking a full length mock of both tests, we would much prefer that he/she simply take a full-length real ACT and let us compare it to the prior year’s PSAT. Since that PSAT was in fact an authentic College Board exam, a real full-length ACT vs. a real PSAT is far more accurate than a fake comparison test from a big-box tutoring company.

Check out a recent case study showing how devastatingly inaccurate the combo/comparison tests that a high school allowed to be used on its campus was! This exact case study plays out dozens of times each year with clients who email us for advice.

Edison Prep