Standardized Tests – ACT vs SAT

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Best Test: ACT vs SAT

ACT, SAT, Test PrepToday is the registration deadline for the October 1st SAT, and tomorrow’s ACT marks the first standardized test of the 2011-2012 academic year. While the concept can be intimidating, standardized testing doesn’t have to be an ordeal. As of 2007, every four-year college that accepts the SAT also accepts the ACT. Determining which test is best for you (based on format, timing, and content) is an important step in ensuring testing success. At IvyWise, we recommend taking one practice SAT and one practice ACT test under realistic testing conditions, scoring both tests, and comparing initial scores. Once you determine which test is better suited to your individual abilities and begin studying, we recommend taking a practice test weekly for eight to ten weeks leading up to the actual test date.

The ACT consists of four main components: English, math, reading, and science reasoning. These sections are knowledge-based and entirely multiple-choice. The total ACT composite score is an average of all four sections, which are each scored on a scale of one to 36. There is also an optional writing section that is scored separately on a scale from two to 12 – even though this section is optional, many schools require it, so make sure to check the testing requirements of the schools on your college list. In total, the test lasts two hours and 55 minutes, or three hours and 25 minutes with the optional writing section.

The SAT has three main components: critical reading, math, and writing. Each component is scored out of 800 (the writing section includes an essay, scored from two to 12, which is factored into the overall writing score), making your highest possible total SAT score 2400. The SAT is a 10-section exam (three sections for each component, plus an experimental section) that lasts three hours and 45 minutes. The SAT has fewer questions than the ACT and students are granted more time to complete each section, so if you prefer to reason through longer, more abstract questions you may want to consider taking the SAT. You are penalized for incorrect answers by ¼ point on the SAT, whereas there is no penalty for incorrect answers on the ACT.

In addition to taking a practice test for each test, here are some tips that might help you determine which test is best for you:

  • The ACT is more of a knowledge-based or achievement test than the SAT, and so you may prepare for the ACT by studying material in your high school curriculum. The SAT on the other hand, tests your ability to reason through an exam, which requires that you practice your test-taking skills, ideally with specific SAT preparation.

  • The SAT has fewer questions than the ACT and students are granted more time to complete each section, so if you prefer to reason through longer, more abstract questions you may want to consider taking the SAT. If, on the other hand, you have a wide range of knowledge and prefer to quickly answer straightforward questions, you may be more suited to the ACT.

  • The ACT only scores correct answers, whereas the SAT penalizes slightly for wrong answers. The SAT also has fewer questions, so each one is weighed more heavily than individual questions on the ACT. Consider how this may affect your test-taking strategies and performance.

  • If science isn’t your strongest subject, you might prefer taking the SAT, which does not have a science section. Conversely, if you enjoy math and science, you might prefer the ACT, which features trigonometry as well as general science. The SAT only tests up to the information students learn in a typical Algebra II class. So, the math on the ACT is slightly more challenging than on the SAT.

  • The ACT will assess your skills in sentence construction, grammar, syntax and punctuation, whereas the SAT critical reading section focuses extensively on vocabulary.

  • The ACT is more direct in the manner in which questions are asked, and so students with learning differences may fare better on this test.

Keep in mind that neither test will “look” better on your application, and you don’t have to take both tests. Above all, the most important part of the standardized testing process is to work hard and prepare, regardless of whether you take the SAT or the ACT.

Still confused? Call us today to schedule an Initial Consultation, which includes a free SAT and ACT diagnostic to help determine which test is the best fit for you.


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