February 26, 2013

By Jacob Brunette

As spring rolls around, juniors start to think about college and with that, they start asking themselves questions about standardized tests, specifically the SAT and ACT. Almost every college accepts scores from either test, so the choice really comes down to personal preference. How do you decide?

Jacob Brunette Issaquah High School

Jacob Brunette
Issaquah High School

At first glance, it seems that the SAT would be the easier test to take, at least for those students who have difficulty with math and science; unlike the ACT, the SAT has no science section, and the math section does not cover trigonometry. However, the SAT has a reputation for having less straightforward questions than the ACT, so the lack of trigonometry does not mean the math section is necessarily easier.

The reading and writing sections are also noticeably different on each test, with the most obvious dissimilarity being the required essay on the SAT. Poor writers may wish to take the ACT if they want to avoid a timed write. There are other differences as well: The SAT focuses more on vocabulary in the reading section than the ACT does, providing a better fit for prolific readers.

Unfortunately, there is no hard and fast rule for choosing which test to take. Students can only make an educated guess and hope to do the best they can.

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One Response to “SAT or ACT?”

  1. Steve Sandweiss on February 28th, 2013 2:25 pm

    Jacob, you are correct that there are important differences between the two tests, although there is considerable overlap in terms of the math and grammar content that test-takers need to know. It is certainly true that ACT math questions appear to be more straightforward than SAT math questions, and that many students have an easier time with ACT math, even though there are a handful of trigonometry questions on the ACT. It’s also the case that the SAT Critical Reading section will be more difficult for those whose vocabulary is not as erudite as the SAT expects.

    There are, however, a couple of items in your article that I’d like to correct. First, the ACT essay is not optional for many colleges, including nearly all of the more selective ones. So test-takers should not pick one exam over the other based on their confidence in their ability to write a solid essay in 30 minutes or less. For many students, in fact, the ACT essay is easier because the topics are more relevant to the lives of high school students. In addition, the essay score is reported separately on the ACT, and is not factored into the composite score. On the SAT, the essay score is weighted 30% of the writing score.

    Second, students can do more than just “take an educated guess and hope to do the best they can” regarding which test is best suited for them. Furthermore, students can use their PSAT and/or PLAN results to determine which test is easier for them. Finally, both the SAT and the ACT websites have free full-length practice tests available and students can use these to identify which test they prefer.

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