SAT vs. ACT
This year’s high school juniors will soon be taking college admissions tests, and a question that is often heard is “should I take the SAT or the ACT?” While an overwhelming majority of colleges accept scores from both the SAT and the ACT, choosing between the two can be challenging. There is, however, one very simple solution that all students should consider: take both!
The SAT, originally known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test, is published by the College Board, a private, nonprofit organization. As indicated in the original name, the SAT is created to measure a student’s aptitude, or ability to reason, as opposed to what you may have learned and memorized in school. In fact, the SAT was once known as the SAT Reasoning Test. While the SAT has not strictly followed the original vision since it was first administered in 1926, many of the questions still lean towards reasoning as opposed to memorization. The new SAT is graded out of 1600 points has three main areas of assessment: math, reading, and writing, with a test layout as follows:
Reading: 65 minutes, 52 questions
Writing and Language: 35 minutes, 44 questions
Math (No calculator): 25 minutes, 20 questions
Math (With calculator): 55 minutes, 38 questions
Optional Writing Section: 50 minutes, 1 essay
This schedule gives the new SAT a total testing time of 180 minutes (or 230 minutes with the optional essay), excluding breaks. Prices have increased for both tests this year, as the SAT costs $45.00 without the essay (up from $43.00 last year), or $57.00 with the essay (up from $54.50 last year).
The ACT takes on a rather different approach to assessment. The ACT, originally known as the American College Test, was first administered by ACT, Inc. in 1959 as a competitor to the popular SAT. Unlike the SAT, the ACT is focused more on student achievement: on what you have learned in school as opposed to your ability to reason. Therefore, the ACT is generally geared more toward students who are good at memorization as opposed to reasoning. In fact, it is known as having easier questions than the SAT. The ACT, graded out of 36 points, also has a different layout than the SAT:
English: 45 minutes, 75 questions
Mathematics: 60 minutes, 60 questions
Reading: 35 minutes, 40 questions
Science: 35 minutes, 40 questions
Optional Essay: 40 minutes, 1 essay
While the questions may be easier, the 175 minute ACT is still competitive due to the increased number of questions and reduced time given in which to complete those questions. The ACT costs $42.50 without the essay (up from $38.00 last year), and $58.50 with it (up from $54.50 last year).
So which test is best? The difference in cost is negligible, so if one must choose one test, it really comes down to personal strengths. The SAT generally has harder, more reason-driven questions, and provides more time to answer them while the ACT generally has slightly easier, knowledge-driven questions which must be completed more hastily. For those with strong reasoning abilities, the SAT may be the best option, while the ACT would be best for those who work very quickly and can easily finish the test within the timeframe.
However, why take only one test? Although the SAT and ACT vary in their approach to testing, it would be beneficial to any student to take both. The added cost of taking both the SAT and ACT is negligible, especially since most students tend to take either the SAT or ACT more than once. In addition, many students tend to score higher on either the SAT or ACT. Overall, the best option would be to take both the SAT and the ACT and send your highest scores to your college of choice.