To SAT or to ACT, that is the Question

Written by Dave Smith & Mark Charlet from Safe Steps

Approaching their Junior year of High School is an intimidating time for students. It is the most academically challenging and can include escalating involvement in sports, clubs, community service, etc. It is also the year they must prep for and take the ACT or SAT exam. This is a difficult decision that requires time, effort, and has a cost associated with it. Taking both tests to figure out which one is the best for the student is not necessarily the best strategy. 

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According to Princeton Review the SAT and ACT cover the same topics and most colleges and universities place equal weight on results from either test. The test structure is similar but not identical. The SAT includes; Reading, Writing & Language, Math, and has an optional Essay. The ACT includes; English, Math, Reading, Science Reasoning and an optional Essay.

It makes sense for the student to choose the exam that suits them best as long as the college of their choice doesn’t prefer one test over the other. Here are a few things for their consideration:

·         SAT primarily assesses reasoning ability while the ACT focuses more on strict knowledge.

·         In the math sections the SAT is more likely to include story problems while the ACT tends to be more straight forward.

·         The ACT includes basic trigonometry among the math questions but is more a test of knowledge than of reasoning and problem solving.

·         In the English section the SAT places a greater emphasis on reading comprehension and vocabulary.

·         The ACT includes a reading comprehension section but focuses more on grammar and syntax.

·         The reading comprehension portions of the SAT present some challenging time management issues.

·         The ACT includes a section on science which is a subject that is absent from the SAT.

·         The ACT requires interpretation of graphs and charts as well as knowledge of the proper construction of scientific hypotheses.

The length of each of the tests is similar but not identical. The SAT is three (3) hours without the essay and three (3) hours and 50 minutes with the essay. The ACT is two (2) hours 55 minutes without the essay and three (3) hours 40 minutes with the essay. There are practice tests available for both and a good rule of thumb is to ensure that the student take the exam within the time constraints of the actual exam.

The pricing for each test is similar – the SAT charges $45 without the Essay and $60 with. The ACT charges $46 without the Essay and $62.50 with.

There is plenty of information available out there, practice exams either online or from a professional prep book but the bottom line is that students need to focus their efforts on the one test that plays to their strengths.