Upon enrolling to college or a post secondary school, there is one major requirement that must be sent in along with your application: the SAT or the ACT exam. With the choice between the two tests, comes analyzing the pros and cons of each. Until recently, the ACT exam was only accepted by some colleges (most of which were in the Midwest), but now most colleges accept both the SAT and the ACT.
The SAT Exposed
The SAT will take 3 hours and 45 minutes to complete on a Saturday morning. These Saturdays are available seven times a year, in October, November, December, January, March/April (varying), May and June. The test is composed of ten sections: three Math, three Critical Reading, three Writing, and one “experimental” section (that will occur randomly in one of the three sections). The writing portion contains one essay section that will come at the beginning of the test and last 25 minutes. (The score from this is combined with your scores from the multiple choice writing sections.) The highest score one can achieve on the SAT is a 2400, with each section scored out of 800 apiece.
The ACT Exposed
The ACT will take about 3 hours to complete. If you complete the essay section (which is optional), it will take you an additional 30 minutes. The ACT is also administered on Saturday mornings, but unlike the SAT, it is only available six times a year in September, October, December, February, April, and June. Also unlike the SAT, the ACT is comprised of four sections: 75 questions for English, 60 questions for math, 40 questions for reading comprehension and 40 questions for science. The writing section is optional depending on whether the college you are applying to requires it. Each section is scored separately out of 36 and then averaged into your composite score of which the highest can be 36.
So… What are the Real Differences?
There are quite a few differences, and because of these some students may perform better on one test than the other. The following are the most significant variations between the two entrance exams:
1. ACT questions tend to be more straightforward. SAT questions are worded so that it may take a student a couple passes to read the question before they understand it, while an ACT question is more likely to be registered on the first read through.
2. The ACT includes a science section. If you breezed through biology and chemistry, the science section will not seem as daunting. Those who are science-impaired may want to steer clear.
3. The SAT will not require you to know trigonometry, but the ACT will throw some trig questions into the math section (though they are basic trig questions.) Study sine and cosine when preparing for the ACT.
4. The SAT includes a required essay at the beginning of the exam, but the ACT essay is optional. If the college you are applying to requires the essay, it will be scored separately, which means it will not affect your composite score.
5. Random guessing is discouraged when taking the SAT since a wrong answer will deduct ¼ of a point, but the ACT will not penalize you for a wrong answer. Guess away.
6. You may want to know what “innocuous” means when taking the SAT because the critical reading sections focus more heavily on vocabulary than the ACT English sections do.
7. While colleges focus more on individual section scores when analyzing the SAT, the ACT is more of a “big picture” exam since colleges are mostly concerned with your composite score.
8. The SAT is split up into more sections that go back and forth between reading, writing and math, whereas the ACT tackles each section in one go.
Both the SAT and ACT exams are necessary for college admission (unless attending a college that disregards these exams), but the two can vary widely. Before choosing one over the other, weigh your options and decide which is best suited for you. Or, if you have a little extra time and cash, you can prepare for and take both exams. Test preparation is only one aspect of preparing for and applying for college, but it is an essential part of getting into the college of your choice.