According to the Princeton Review, every college and university in the United States accepts the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) or the American College Test (ACT) with no preference to either test. Instead, students are encouraged to research which test best suits their abilities based on the test’s structure and emphasis. Because studies have shown that girls tend to be more attentive in class, the school-curriculum based ACT leads girls to statistically perform better on it. Conversely, boys generally score higher on the SAT. Aside from the ACT focusing on “achievement,” and the SAT centering on “general reasoning and problem-solving,” there are many other key differences between the two tests. Students can take both tests when applying to college—but, if money or time are limiting factors, there are several key differences between the SAT and ACT to consider before selecting which test to take.
The SAT is composed of critical reading, math and writing sections, along with a required essay at the beginning of the test. The ACT consists of English, math, reading and science sections with an optional writing test at the end. The ACT is 215 questions, while its SAT counterpart has only 140 questions. The SAT also grants a small penalty for wrong answers (excluding the fill-ins in the math section), while the ACT disregards incorrect answers and only counts correct responses. While scores range from 1 to 36 on the ACT, the highest possible score on the SAT is a 2400. The PLAN is generally considered the practice ACT, while the PSAT is a practice SAT.
SAT questions are also known to be difficult to interpret, while the ACT tends to be more straightforward in its formatting. The SAT has a much heavier focus on vocabulary, while the ACT emphasizes on science which the SAT does not. While both tests cover math, the SAT covers Algebra I and II and geometry, while the ACT covers all three plus trigonometry. Chelsea Mariano (Fr.) said, “I would probably take the ACT because based on what I’ve heard, the ACT is based on the subjects that you’ve learned in school over the years, while SAT requires logic and reasoning.” Although the SAT also has a required essay that is part of the total score, the ACT has an optional writing test that is not included in the composite score, and is instead seen as a separate score by colleges.
Decades ago, the ACT was mostly taken by those living in the Midwest, while the SAT was predominant along the coast. While the SAT was once preferred over the ACT, colleges now accept either test with equal credence. In 2007, Harvey Mudd College in California, the last college not to accept the ACT instead of the SAT, announced it was rescinding its admissions test preference for the SAT. Taking prep classes specifically designed to increase ACT or SAT scores has only recently become popular.
Alex Chen (So.) said he “would prep for both the SAT and ACT by taking a class at Elite because they go over more SAT questions in a more focused way than you would learn in school.” Sophia Huo (Fr.) also said she would “take both the SAT and the ACT” and agreed that the money invested into preparatory courses are worth the instruction and study material. Yet, many are split between deciding to take these classes due to the significant cost of these courses–ranging anywhere between two to three thousand dollars for a summer boot camp class. Winston Lin (Jr.) said, “prep classes are extremely overpriced for what they offer. Not only that but the improvement in your scores is often minimal.”
While the ACT or SAT is required among universities, arguably neither test is an accurate reflection of a student’s intelligence or future prospect for success. Instead, the SAT and ACT are merely representations of how good a student is at taking the SAT or ACT—a skill significantly influenced by the amount of self-motivated studying and money a student pours into preparing for them.
By TAMARA LIN