Published On: Thursday, February 25, 2016|Categories: Uncategorized|

If your child will be graduating from high school in 2017 or 2018, you may wonder whether the ACT or SAT exam will be best to prepare him/her for college admission. When you were preparing for college, the choice of exam probably depended a lot on what part of the country you were planning on going to school; schools in the midwest used to favor the ACT exam whereas schools on the coasts tended to prefer the SAT exam.

The good news now is that most colleges accept either ACT or SAT exam scores. And, with a newly redesigned SAT exam set to launch on March 6, 2016, the tests have much more in common than they previously did.

In this post, we’ll highlight both the similarities and differences, and provide some thoughts that may help you and your child make the decision as to which test to sit for.

What’s the same or similar?

  • Both tests take about four hours to complete, including breaks.
  • Both tests are graded on a curve, so the test-taker is in competition with everyone else sitting for that same test.
  • While both tests include essays, they are now both optional. If a student completes the essay, the score for the essay will be sent separately, along with comments on the student’s performance on that part of the exam.  (Note that while completing the essays may be optional as part of the test, and neither essay affects the overall score for the test, some colleges and universities do require them as part of their application process.)
  • Both tests include questions designed to assess college readiness in the areas of English, math and reading.

What’s specific to the new SAT?

  • The SAT is scored on a scale of 400-1600.
  • The SAT is offered seven times each year.
  • While there is not a section of the test dedicated to science, science questions do appear in each of the other three sections (so students who don’t like science cannot escape it entirely, unfortunately.)
  • The optional essay is somewhat different from the ACT’s essay; with the new SAT essay, students are asked to read and analyze someone else’s arguments as set forth in a persuasive essay.
  • Geometry formulas are provided at the beginning of the section, so there is no need for students to memorize these. However, there are some fill-in-the-blank math questions on the new SAT, and calculators are not allowed for one half of the problems.
  • Because it is a new exam, there are only four official practice tests available, making it somewhat harder to study and prepare for.

What’s specific to the ACT?

  • The ACT is scored on a scale of 1-36.
  • The ACT is offered six times each year.
  • In addition to the test sections on English, math and reading, the ACT includes a fourth section with science questions.
  • The optional essay for the ACT asks test-takers to read and evaluate a complex situation, and then write a personal essay taking a position on the subject matter.
  • The math section of the ACT is somewhat geometry-heavy. In addition, formulas are not provided, so students would do well to memorize them ahead of time.
  • There are ten official practice tests available, in comparison to the SAT’s four.
  • Generally, there is less time available to answer each question, so unless a test-taker is doing very well, he or she probably will not get to complete all of the sections of the test. Students who do well with time management should have an edge with the ACT.

Some students and their parents may be tempted to sign up for both tests, but now that the tests are so similar and both are accepted by most schools, there’s not a lot of advantage in doing so. Most schools now place equal emphasis on the tests.

Because of the uncertainties around the new SAT exam which nobody has taken yet, we generally recommend that students take the ACT exam this year. We believe the ACT exam measures achievement, so students who succeed through perseverance and put forth their best effort should see scores that reflect that effort.

Whichever test your student decides to take, encourage them to start preparing as early as possible. By beginning to study several months in advance and registering for the test in advance of the deadline, he or she should be well-prepared for the challenge.

To learn how the Tenney School can help your child be better prepared for the future, contact us today.

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