SAT v. ACT: Which is best for you?


By Hawkeye Staff

Heidi Lara-Flores | HAWKEYE

Whether a student is a freshman, sophomore, junior, or senior, sooner or later he or she will most likely experience the pressures of taking standardized tests for college admissions. When it comes to taking standardized tests for college, the Collegeboard-owned SAT probably comes to mind.

For those who might not know, the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) is the most widely used college admission test in the world. It tests a student’s skills in reading, writing, and math; many people take the SAT for the first time in their junior or senior year of high school. Most colleges in the United States use the SAT as a major admissions factor.

Although another form of college-admission standardized testing known as the ACT (American College Testing) has been around since 1959, it didn’t attract major attention until 2007 when every single four-year U.S. college began to accept ACT or SAT. Twenty years ago, 1,093,833 students took the SAT while 817,000 students took the ACT in the United States. For the class of 2010, 1,547, 990 students took the SAT while 1,568,835 students took the ACT.

The ACT might be a better choice for those who just can’t seem to get the hang of the SAT. However, if a student has not taken either, how does he or she know which test is the right one for him or her?

The SAT focuses mainly on problem solving and general reasoning skills, while the ACT is more curriculum based. While colleges swear that they do not prefer the SAT over the ACT and vice versa, some college counselors still believe otherwise.

Here are some tips and questions that will help determine which test is better suited for students who are not sure which test to take.

The most important thing to consider when deciding to take the SAT or ACT is checking to make sure if the desired college(s) require one test or the other. Many colleges will accept ACT scores, but still require the SAT to be part of the admissions application.

If the college accepts either, then the student should take the test that is better suited to his skills. Be aware of all options; it is always smart to carefully look over the college requirements before registering for any test.

People with different approaches to learning are separated into two groups by college counselors. Depending on which group a student belongs to, he might score higher on one test or the other.

According to MTHS counselor Pam Salvatore “One out of five [students] will do significantly better on one or the other. In those cases it can help a student get into the college of their choice.” Salvatore then went on to point out that “Most importantly I recommend juniors take the ACT and/or SAT in spring of junior year because college admissions dates are sooner, so if they want to retake in the fall [as a senior] they still have time.”

Although the SAT and ACT are meant to test a student’s knowledge of the basic principles that are taught in high school, both tests are backed by different philosophies, formats, and subject matters. The SAT strives to test innate test taking skills through the use of tricky and confusing phrases, as well as the ability to identify what the question is really asking.

The ACT, on the other hand, tries to assess the exact knowledge that has been acquired through the student’s high school curriculum. When deciding which test to take, one should consider his personal strengths as well as the subjects tested by both tests. The ACT tests a larger range of subjects, so it might seem harder.

However, questions on the SAT are deliberately worded in a way that might confuse the test taker, though it may deal with simpler topics than the ACT. Another thing is that ACT scores can be improved simply by studying the actual subjects, but in order for SAT scores to improve it is necessary to understand the tricks of test-taking.

Format-wise, there really is not that much of a difference. There are 4 sections on the ACT with a total time of 175 minutes (plus an optional 30 minute writing test). The SAT has 3 sections (plus 1 experimental section) and lasts for a total of 225 minutes (plus a 25 minute experimental section).

Money and time permit, a student should consider taking both the SAT and ACT. This way, not only can the higher score be chosen to submit to colleges, but retakers will also have the experience of taking both tests and be able to decide which one will benefit scores and chances at college admissions the most.

While there are differences between the SAT and ACT, both ultimately test the ability to think and a student’s knowledge of the fundamentals of high school education. In the end, choosing to take the SAT, ACT, or both, is really a matter of personal skill and preference.