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How to Choose Between the SAT and ACT

So Many Tests, So Little Time. How do I Choose between the SAT and ACT?

I know, I know, students can just go nuts trying to decide which of these two “adorable” standardized exams will best demonstrate their natural intelligence and analytical ability. Let’s break it all down:

1) THE SAT format has three sections: Mathematics, Critical Reasoning, and Writing. The ACT has five: Mathematics, English, Science, Reading, and optional Writing section. Students may believe that they can finesse their way out of doing a written piece if they take the ACT. The problem is that many colleges and universities will require their applicants to complete the Writing section, so students may need to take that optional part anyway. Of course, if English and Writing are your strong suits, then the SAT may still be the best option for you.

2) The SAT focuses on a student’s aptitude in verbal and reasoning skills. Students who can more easily wrap their heads around more analytical questions tend to do well on the SAT. The ACT is, by design, a test of achievement and information learned over the course of high school. Because the ACT is more material and achievement oriented, many students feel more comfortable taking the exam. But be aware, if you have a weak background in science (e.g. perhaps you have never taken Physics, or are not comfortable with data interpretation), the ACT may not be the right choice. Now, counselors will say that only a basic science knowledge and the ability to make inferences is all that’s required. In fact, for the most part, that is true. There are three basic question types: Data Interpretation, Research Summaries, and Conflicting Viewpoints. The Official ACT website insists that: “Advanced knowledge in these subjects is not required, but background knowledge acquired in general, introductory science courses is needed…” So, if you have had little exposure to the sciences and are not terribly concerned about the SAT Critical Reasoning questions…opt for the SAT first—there’s no science involved.

3) For those who are comfortable with mathematics tests, either the SAT or ACT will work for you. The ACT actually tests the same math as the SAT, but also includes trigonometry and plane geometry.

4) For those who have a rich and broad vocabulary, the SAT might be an excellent choice.

5) Students always ask which exam has more difficult questions? The answer is, it really depends on how you test. That’s why, before you decide on which exam to take, you should spend some time with practice sections from review books on each. You’ll know after a few days of studying which test comes more naturally to you. What you might want to know more about is the arrangement of difficult questions on each exam. The answer to that is more cut and dry. The SAT questions become increasingly difficult as one moves through each section. The ACT questions are totally random in their order of difficulty.

6) Some students prefer one test over the other based on the way the test deals with wrong answers. On the SAT, students are penalized for incorrect responses. On the ACT, students are not penalized if they guess incorrectly, and the score rests on the number of correct responses only.

SO, try out practice questions for both exams, either online or in a review book, and see which best allows you to show your skills. Good luck!

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