Wednesday, June 14, 2017

SAT or ACT: Which is Best for Me?

Many college and universities require applicants to take the SAT or ACT (for a list of those that don’t or are test-optional, check out Fairtest). All colleges that require a standardized test will accept either the SAT or ACT. There is no need to take both!

Until recently, there were significant differences between the two tests. The SAT, introduced in the 1920s, was a “reasoning” test designed to assess “college readiness”, not what students learned in school, while the ACT was aligned with high school curricula. In 2016, the SAT changed its purpose and format and is now much more like the ACT. However, there are still differences that may make one test preferable for students. Here are some things to consider:

Overall Testing Experience
The SAT is a “slower” test, giving you considerably more time per problem than the ACT does. If you like to pace yourself and take your time with each question, the SAT will probably be better for you. If you can move through problems quickly and with good focus, the ACT will suit you.

  • How quickly can you read with a high level of accuracy and comprehension? The ACT is a fast test and is text-heavy, so students who read more slowly will probably do better on the SAT.

Science Reasoning
  • The ACT has a science section, while the SAT doesn’t. The ACT science section tests critical thinking ability rather than specific science knowledge, and requires students to read accurately and with strong comprehension at a fast pace.

  • Both tests cover arithmetic, Algebra I & II, Geometry and Trigonometry. The SAT also covers Data Analysis.
  • The SAT has math sections where you may not use a calculator. If you need a calculator for math, the ACT is a better choice.
  • On the ACT, all questions are multiple choice. The SAT has 13 “fill in the blank” questions as well as multiple choice.

  • The SAT writing section tests comprehension of a source text; it requires you to come up with an argument and support it.  The ACT writing section, on the other hand, tests your ability to analyze and evaluate complex issues; it gives you an argument and asks you to evaluate it.

The easiest way to determine which test is best for you is to take full-length practice tests. You’ll get the most useful insights if you take the tests under realistic testing conditions. Many test prep companies offer proctored practice tests free of charge. You can also use practice tests from the Official SAT Study Guide and the Official ACT Prep Guide.

Remember, standardized tests are just one piece of your college application. Do your best, but don’t stress. If your college list is well-balanced and includes schools that are great fits for you, you’re sure to be accepted to the colleges where you will thrive.

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