"You have to take the SAT."

These are the six ominous words every high school counselor says to students beginning their junior year. It can incite emotions of fear, sorrow and despair into the hearts of many young adults waiting to get a start on their college life. The SAT or the ACT is the gateway to applications; it is the basic, standardized piece of the puzzle. Although colleges look at your application with an holistic approach – which means that you are more than just numbers to them – performing well on standardized tests is definitely beneficial in terms of getting into your dream school.

Eventually this leads to the question, "Which one should I take?" Most colleges accept both tests, and while they both seem the same on the outside, they are completely different when actually taking the test. When deciding which test you want to take analyze the sections and how the test is set up. Then, discover what your strengths and weaknesses are.

1. Content

First focus on subject area. Are you better at math than reading? Try an SAT mock, as the math section is more heavily weighted than the reading. Are you better at reading comprehension? Try the ACT because it has a science section which is basically the same as reading. For example, in the science section, each group of questions is accompanied by a passage detailing the experiments and graphs, so no real scientific knowledge is tested; it;s just a test for reading comprehension. I personally excel more at reading and writing, so math was the real challenge.

2. Time

Once you have looked at content, look at the time limit and structure of each test. Subjectively, I believe that the SAT focuses on more time with harder questions and the overall quantity of questions being less. However, the ACT is less time with easier questions in greater quantity. It becomes a debate of quality versus quantity. Decide which structure you like better, and make sure you time yourself when taking practice tests. Time has always been my biggest enemy when preparing for these tests. What I always make sure to do is figure out a pattern of difficulty and skip to questions I know will be easier if I'm running low on time.

3. Practice

After deciding which test is right for you, make sure that you practice! The more mock tests and practice problems you do, the better you will get. Always look at what you did wrong, and correct those mistakes to make sure you don't miss that same pattern again. The SAT and ACT may seem daunting, but it's all about your learning style, noticing patterns and time management. Once you have those skills down, there should be nothing stopping you from succeeding the standardized test you choose!