What’s the deal?
The Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and the American College Test (ACT) are both tests which most colleges are using as a requirement to acceptance. One question many parents and students often ask is, “Which is better, ACT or SAT? Should I take both?” Preparing for these tests is a must so taking both can be a daunting task.
The SAT is known as an aptitude test – testing, not on what a student has learned in school, but on their own verbal and reasoning skills. However, the ACT is an achievement test meant to assess what a student has learned in school. As a general rule, the ACT is the standard for Alabama public colleges and universities along with most Midwest state schools. However, since neighboring states encourage the SAT testing, most schools accept either score. Depending on your student and their skill set, they may perform better on one over the other.
- Structure – The difficulty remains consistent throughout the entire test. The test is all multiple choice and the essay is saved for last.
- Length and Time – The ACT has 215 questions and an optional essay; it allots 3 hours and 25 minutes of actual testing time if the essay is included.
- Content – This test measures the areas of mathematics, English, reading, and science. While the science portion covers chemistry, biology, earth science, and physics, the ACT is really evaluating a test-taker’s ability to understand the graphs, summaries, and other given information. Math on the ACT will include some basic trigonometry; a student taking the ACT should at least know how to use sine and cosine.
- Writing and the Essay – While grammar usage is important for both tests, the ACT stresses punctuation and even questions rhetoric strategies more so than the SAT. The essay for the ACT is optional; however, often colleges are requiring it for admission. For this 30 minute essay, a student will possibly be asked to take a stand on a potentially controversial topic and write about the counter-argument as part of the essay.
- Guessing – For the ACT, there is no penalty for guessing an incorrect answer. Students are encouraged to mark and answer for every question, whether they know the answer or not.
- Scoring – Each section of the ACT is scored out of 36 points. To calculate the combined score, all of the scores from each section are averaged. The average score on the ACT is usually around 21. The combined score is known as the composite score – test-takers can see how their score matches up against others. Most often, colleges look to composite scores as opposed to section scores.
- Structure – For the SAT, students will notice questions getting more difficult as they progress; this is different than the ACT. Also, for the math portion, there are some problems which entail written answers in addition to the multiple choice. Finally, the required essay is the last portion of the SAT.
- Length and Time – This test has 140 questions as well as a required essay, all of which takes a total of 3 hours and 45 minutes to complete.
- Content – The SAT measures aptitude in the areas of reading, writing, and mathematical reasoning. A great emphasis is placed on vocabulary in the critical reading section, much more than the ACT.
- Writing and the Essay – The required essay for the SAT is allotted a time of 25 minutes for a student to complete. Unlike the prompts for the ACT, the SAT will usually present a general issue and a student will need to elaborate on it using outside examples.
- Guessing – Guessing is not encouraged on the SAT since every wrong answer counts off. However, if a student is able to narrow his/her choices down to three, their chance of guessing correctly increases and they should then make an educated guess. If the student cannot narrow it down, the answer should be left blank
- Scoring – Each section of the SAT is worth up to 800 points and is weighted. On average, students usually score around 500.
When it comes to comparing SAT scores to ACT scores, colleges have a difficult time. Fundamentally, the tests measure different skills; this means that there is no true equivalent between the two. Nevertheless, institutions must be able to correlate the scores. This is done using concordance tables.
According to ACT.org, “Concordant scores are defined as those having the same percentile rank with respect to the group of students used in the study.” Using these tables, universities are able to create a standard or cutoff based on both tests.
Which one should my teen choose?
Deciding which standardized test to take is not always a precise science.
Consider the SAT if your teen:
- needs more time allotted to answer questions
- has good language skills
- is strong in math
- does not feel pressured by the guessing penalty
Consider the ACT if:
- your teen is able to work quickly on tests
- has a wider range of knowledge in science, math, and language
- will feel pressured with a guessing penalty
Understanding the test differences and realizing that every student has strengths will help them make better decisions and be more confident taking one or both of the entrance exams.
Click here for some great tools to help you Decide!