Choosing which exam to include in your college application portfolio is an important part of your college application strategy. Many years ago, your choice would have been dictated by geography. Students applying to Midwestern schools took the ACT, while students applying to schools on the East or West coasts took the SAT.
Today, most colleges or universities accept both exams and place equal weight on both. This new flexibility allows the savvy applicant to play to their key strengths based on the structure of each exam.
Focus on determining which test would allow you to excel most. The SAT exam primarily assesses reasoning ability while the ACT focuses more on direct knowledge. The main difference becomes one of problem-solving versus a wider range of tested concepts.
Both tests have a math section and both require a strong foundation in Algebra and geometry. However, the SAT is more likely to include story problems and creative applications of the basic rules of geometry. The ACT, however, tends to be more straightforward.
The ACT has a few questions that require trigonometry. The SAT does not. ACT trig is quite basic but you should study it before taking the exam.
The ACT includes a science section, which is totally absent from the SAT. You don’t need to be a science whiz to do well on this part of the exam, the test is really assessing your ability to read and understand graphs, scientific hypotheses, and research summaries.
Both exams stress writing skills so it is important for the test taker to know rules of subject/verb agreement, proper noun usage, identifying run on sentences, etc. However, the emphasis on each exam is slightly different. The ACT places more emphasis on punctuation and it also includes questions on rhetoric strategies.
The SAT critical reading section places more emphasis on vocabulary than the ACT reading sections. If you have good language skills but only have an average vocabulary, the ACT might be a better exam for you.
The SAT has a guessing penalty. It was designed to penalize you for random guessing. The ACT does not have a guessing penalty. The difference is how you view guessing versus not guessing and the stress level it creates for you.
Each test varies in length. The ACT has 215 questions plus the optional essay. The SAT has 170 questions plus the required essay. The testing time for the ACT is 3 hours and 25 minutes while the SAT takes 3 hours 20 minutes before test breaks are factored in. Thus, the ACT allows less time per question.
One of the best options for students deciding which exam to take is to take practice exams for both either online or from a professional prep book. Follow the test format as closely as possible. Complete each test in one sitting while observing appropriate time limits. When comparing your scores look at the percentile results.
If your practice scores on each test land you in a comparable percentile, focus on the test that feels more natural to you. In almost all cases, your goal should be to center your efforts on the one test that plays to your strengths the most.
If you have any other questions about selecting a college, or the admissions process, feel free to contact me through my website at www.Prep4CollegeNow.com or call me at 760.877.7200. I’d love to answer your questions.
Excerpted from “How to Choose Between Taking the ACT, SAT” by Brian Witte, College Admissions Playbook