Diagnostic ACT/SAT Tests: Why Do They Matter?

What are diagnostic tests and why do they matter?

Is your student trying to choose between the SAT and the ACT? 

Despite what you may have heard, colleges don’t have a preference on which test a student submits, so a student’s best bet is to figure out which exam is the ideal fit for them. 

The simplest way to make that determination is to conduct diagnostic testing.

The Role of Diagnostic Tests 

A diagnostic test is a full-length practice exam done under realistic testing conditions. In addition to helping students choose between the SAT and ACT, diagnostic tests pinpoint students’ test-taking strengths and weaknesses and help them focus their test prep efforts strategically. They also establish a baseline for the test prep process and assist students in setting a target score

You might be wondering, “What about the PSAT or PreACT?” While these preliminary tests can serve as diagnostics if absolutely necessary, they’re not ideal because they aren’t full-length exams. If your student has the time and the opportunity to take diagnostic tests for the actual SAT and ACT, that’s always the best course of action. 

How the Diagnostic Process Works 

How should students go about taking diagnostic tests? Here’s a step-by-step guide to how the process works: 

1. Research each test

We recommend looking through a practice test of each type, completing several problems, and reading all the directions to get familiar with the test format and structure. 

Keep in mind that the practice tests students use during this initial research should not be the same tests they use as diagnostics. 

2. Obtain official practice exams

Be sure to use only official, full-length practice tests found on the College Board or ACT websites. 

Third-party companies that administer practice exams use different metrics to come up with sample questions and score the tests. As a result, students who take these tests may not have the most accurate information to help them choose between the SAT and ACT.

3. Take the tests under realistic conditions

During a diagnostic, it’s essential to simulate a real test-taking environment as closely as possible. 

We advise students to block off two Saturday or Sunday mornings (during different weekends!) to take their diagnostic exams. Use the actual answer sheet, No. 2 pencils, and a test-approved calculator. Have a clock or stopwatch nearby to time the sections accurately. 

4. Self-evaluate while taking the exams

A practice test not only provides a quantitative assessment in the form of a score but also allows students to assess their progress from a more qualitative perspective. 

While taking the tests, students should place a question mark next to questions that stumped them and take a moment between each section to reflect on how they felt about the material. 

5. Select an exam

In a perfect world, every student would score significantly higher on one test than the other, making the decision clear. In reality, many students perform equally well on both tests and have a harder choice to make. 

These students will need to rely on their qualitative assessments and self-evaluations to choose a path forward. Sometimes it’s as simple as concluding that they felt better taking one exam than the other. 

If your student needs support getting their test prep off on the right foot, consider Signet’s test prep services. Our experts can provide a professional analysis to help your student select the right test and then tailor a study plan based on their goals, needs, and learning style. Contact us today to start the conversation.

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