By Walt Leung
SAT or ACT? A few years ago, this question would have been predominantly one-sided. Most students would have taken the SAT, and most college admissions officers would have recommended it as well. However, as of the past few years, the ACT has started to rise in popularity, rivaling the SAT. This often complicates matters for students; nobody wants to potentially make the wrong choice when it comes to one of the most important tests in high school. Exacerbating this? The difference between the SAT and ACT is enormous, and studying together might mean disappointing scores for both.
Structurally, the ACT and SAT are completely different. The SAT is organized into small chunks; test takers perform small sections of reading, writing, and math at a time. On the other hand, the ACT is organized linearly; test takers complete an entire subject before moving on. As a result, sections in the ACT take 35 to 60 minutes each while sections in the SAT only take 10 to 25 minutes each.
Content-wise, many professionals denote the ACT as an achievement test, and the SAT an aptitude test. The ACT generally focuses on material covered in the classroom, which is why questions tend to be of harder difficulty, but relatively straight-forward. On the other hand, the SAT focuses on the reasoning aspect, with easier questions but tricky phrasing and more trap answers.
Furthermore, the ACT covers some advanced topics in mathematics, even going into trigonometry, while the SAT stops at Algebra II. The ACT also has a science section that the SAT lacks.
Score-wise, the ACT is scored on a scale of 1 to 36, with each section having a composite score that is averaged for the total. The SAT is scored on a scale of 600 to 2400, with each section having a composite score that is added to the total. Colleges tend to place more emphasis on the total score for the ACT, as opposed to the composite scores for the SAT. Therefore, students weak in one discipline but stronger in another are often recommended to choose the ACT over the SAT.
Ultimately, most advisors recommend students choose one test that best suits their test taking style and stick with it. However, the ACT has finally gained its respect in the standardized testing department and is no longer overshadowed by the SAT.