I'm not a great test-taker. Unfortunately, I have to take a college-admission test this spring. Should I take the ACT or SAT? What is the difference between these tests? Am I likely to do better on one of them? -- High-School Junior


Your first step should be to find out which test the colleges you are considering want you to take. Chances are that these schools will accept either test.

If this is the case, you need to take practice versions of both tests. You may do better on one test than the other depending on your own strengths and weaknesses. The two tests are scored on different scales, so check with your high-school guidance office or online to compare scores to see which one you did better on.

The ACT and SAT do test different content. Basic geometry and Algebra II are tested on the SAT, while the ACT has four questions on trigonometry. Only the ACT has a science section. Vocabulary is emphasized more on the SAT, and a writing section is part of the SAT, but optional on the ACT.

There are other differences, too. The ACT is entirely multiple-choice questions, and there is no penalty for guessing. The SAT questions usually go from easy to hard, while the easy and hard questions are mixed on the ACT. With the SAT, all your scores are automatically sent to colleges, while you choose which ACT scores are sent.

Once you have scores for both the ACT and SAT practice tests, find out how close your scores are to the typical scores for each test at the colleges you are considering. This information is found on college Web sites and in guidebooks on college admissions. And please remember that test scores are not the only factor in admissions decisions. Plus, they can definitely be improved through test preparation.

In making your decision about which test to take, you need to consider that some colleges also require three subject-oriented SAT II tests. However, some schools will accept the ACT in the place of taking the SAT and three subject tests.