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SAT vs. ACT: Understanding the value of both tests


Senior year is a hectic time. Keeping up with schoolwork, social lives, applying to colleges, and, the most dreaded, taking the SAT. Those three letters are enough to make some students cringe. From the stress of testing to the mammoth length of the test to the uncertainty over one question to the major implications for the future, the SAT is incredibly important for students, yet it causes a great deal of anxiety.

In recent years, another test has grown in popularity. Despite being around since 1959, the ACT has only recently become more popular for students making preparations for college. When compared to the SAT, the main difference of the ACT, besides the scoring, is the addition of a Science section, along with Math, Critical Reading, and Writing. The ACT is also scored out of a possible 36, whereas the SAT is scored out of 2400.

Each test has a separate set up as well. Many students fret over the dreaded essay of the SAT, which is the first part of the test and takes 25 minutes. After the essay, which is what most students consider the worst part, comes nine multiple choice sections. The sections are the same for each test, but each test book has them in a different order to prevent cheating. In the nine sections there are six that are 25 minutes, two that are 20 minutes, and then the test finishes off with a 10-minute section. There are also three breaks in between some of the sections in order to ease the tension off students a little bit before they dive into the next section.

The ACT, on the other hand, has an optional essay. When signing up the student has the option to take the test with or without an essay. Instead of breaking the different sections up, the ACT throws it all at you, with a 45 minute English (Writing) section, 60 minute Math section, and 35 minutes each for Reading and Science. If the student opted to take the essay, that tacks on another 30 minutes. Only one break is provided during the ACT.

The SAT is the more common test in Pennsylvania, so what makes students want to take the ACT? I asked a sample of 30 Prep seniors if they took the SAT, then if they took the ACT. Every single student took the SAT, while only 10 of the kids I asked took the ACT. I then asked those 10 students which test they thought was easier and which test layout they preferred. 8 out of 10 students said they thought the ACT was easier than the SAT, although 7 out of 10 said that they preferred the layout of the SAT.

One of the students I asked about the ACT, senior Tomoki Takasawa, said he thought the ACT was easier, especially the Reading section. Tomoki is Japanese and said he could pretty easily read the ACT Reading section, but the SAT was too hard to read. Another senior, Richard Vicary, said he disliked the split up sections of the SAT, and preferred the setup of the ACT instead. Richard also said he likes knowing the order of the sections on the ACT, which is random on the SAT, and he also likes that the essay is optional on the ACT.

While the layout of the tests and students’ opinions on them may differ, the actual content of the questions is not that different. Because of this, it would probably be advantageous to take both tests. There is always the possibility of doing better on the second test, and colleges may see a student as more studious if they take both tests, although since I am not a college admissions officer I’m not positive about that.

Regardless, taking both tests is a good plan because there is always the possibility of doing better on one or the other, and many colleges are willing to accept the higher of the two scores. And in the end, choosing to take the ACT comes down to a few things: if you really want to take it, if you think you’ll do better, or if one of your prospective colleges requires it. If you think there is a high possibility of increasing your score, it would probably be good to take the ACT as well. It comes down to personal preference if the ACT is a good plan to take in addition to the SAT. So for future students getting ready for their senior year and beyond, good luck on whichever test you plan to take. Remember, if your score isn’t really the best or what you would want, there is always another SAT test that you could sign up for, or think about taking the ACT too.

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