SAT or ACT? College Testing Advice for Michigan's Tenth Graders

Tenth graders in Michigan were pushed into the mania of college testing a little early. The tumult began when the Michigan Department of Education announced it would be offering the SAT as the required state test for college admission, starting in the 2015-16 school year. This change ends a seven-year relationship between the state and ACT, which had been used as the required college admission test since the state has required a college exam as part of eleventh grade testing.

To say this change is a surprise is like saying February was a cold month in Michigan. If you go back far enough, Michigan was once known as an "ACT state", where ACT was viewed as the preferred -- and in some cases, the only -- admissions test our colleges would accept. In addition, the change to the SAT is seen as risky by some, since 2015-16 is the year a brand new version of the SAT will be rolled out by College Board. Put another way, some wonder if the state is putting too much faith on a test no one has seen, and no students have ever taken.

I hate talking about college logistics with sophomores--tenth grade is the time students are supposed to be learning more about who they are and the world around them, not how to cut corners on the college application process. But now that every sophomore family is wondering what to do about testing, it seems best to offer these three pieces of advice, and hope you will then go back to your regularly scheduled life:

Use the free SAT test prep resources that are available now. No one knows what the new SAT is going to look like except College Board, so when they offer free online test prep materials for the new test, it makes sense to use them. You can find these materials on the Khan Academy Web site right now; use them on your own, or check to see if your school counselor is putting together some test prep activities at school using these materials and other tools College Board is offering counselors.

Plan on taking the PSAT this fall. The PSAT has always been the best way to get to know what the SAT looks like, and that will still be the case this fall. Colleges don't ask to see PSAT scores, so this really is your best chance to try out the new SAT format without penalty. Your high school may offer this exam for free, or they may charge a small fee; either way, it's more than worth the price and time, so you can get a solid look at what you'll be dealing with during required testing in March.

Plan on taking the ACT next spring as well. I've always told students to take both the SAT and the ACT once in spring of the junior year, and that advice isn't changing for tenth graders. Yes, the ACT will cost you money next year, but the SAT cost this year's juniors money, and I told them to take that -- and since all four year colleges will take both the ACT and the SAT, students are very glad they did.

Everyone wants the new SAT to be a hit, but the truth is, we just don't know what it's going to look like. The ACT isn't changing next year, and it's the test students (and colleges) are used to. In times of change, it's essential to have something tried and true as Plan B. For next year's juniors, that's the ACT -- so start saving your pennies.