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Should My Son Take the SAT or the ACT?

Gifted and Talented Expert Advice from Rita Culross, Ph.D.

Q: My seventh-grade son has been nominated to the Duke University Talent Search. He can take either the SAT or the ACT. How do I know which test is appropriate for my child? I know the SAT tests verbal and math skills, while the ACT includes science and social studies as well. Is there something else I should know before we make the choice?

A: The SAT and the ACT are the two standardized tests used by colleges in admissions decisions. They can also be used to identify highly gifted students as early as fifth or sixth grade.

The SAT I: Reasoning Test measures verbal reasoning, math problem-solving, and critical reading. It is not designed to measure motivation, creativity, or specialized talents.

The American College Test or ACT measures general educational achievement in the areas of English, math, reading, and science, and assesses the ability of students to complete college-level work. The ACT is also unlikely to identify students who are gifted in specific areas, such as creative thinking, leadership, or the visual arts.

Both the ACT and SAT also have supplementary tests that are designed to assess advanced achievement in specific subject areas. Some colleges prefer one test or the other in their admissions processes, but both tests are good for selecting students for accelerated content-based programs, such as Talent Search. Schools also can compare scores on the two tests. The American College Testing Program, which produces the ACT, and the College Board, which is associated with the SAT, provide excellent websites with additional information about their testing programs. Both have specific links for parents and students. The ACT website is act.org. The College Board website is collegeboard.com.

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Rita Culross is Associate Dean, College of Education, and Adjunct Professor of Psychology and Curriculum and Instruction at Louisiana State University. Culross has served as the consulting school psychologist for a public school elementary gifted program, and has written a book and several journal articles on gifted education.


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