ACT vs. SAT: What’s best for YOU?

Article by Joshua Tan

Photo by Jinny Park

Amidst IB struggles and extra curriculars, Juniors and Seniors are constantly faced with the huge challenge of college admission testing. The SAT and ACT are standardized college admissions tests that are required by most colleges and universities in the United States. In the past, whether taking the ACT or SAT depended on geographical location- the SAT being dominant in the Northeast, while the ACT prevalent in the Midwest.

In recent years, there has been a surge of international students applying to wide ranges of schools abroad, especially to highly prestigious schools in the US. For this purpose, the classic SAT has been the test of choice for these students. Because it’s been around for longer, there is a popular notion that SAT is the ‘better’ test. However, both are equally accepted and recognized by US schools. In fact, the past four years have shown that testing for students in the US has grown more progressive, since the ACT has become more predominant even in the northeast and west coast.

With only 3 hours and 45 minutes, an SAT candidate is required to write an essay first, then is given 9 more sections, comprised of math, critical reading and writing, in a random order. In contrast, the ACT, lasting a mere 2 hours and 55 minutes, includes similar sections, but also contains science and trigonometry sections, which are not covered in the SAT. The structure is predictable, starting with english, then math, reading and then science. The last section is an optional essay writing test, which lasts an additional 30 minutes. As Ms. Grier, a guidance counselor concludes, “the SAT is directed more toward general reasoning and problem-solving skills, while the ACT is more of a curriculum-based test.” From this, students who are skilled at working around tricky wording would fit the SAT, where students with a wider knowledge base would flourish with the ACT.

Recently, the College Board, which handles the SAT, revealed that the new SAT test will be given starting the fall of 2016. This new SAT will be “closely aligned to the ACT, where the writing section becomes optional,” as observed by guidance counselor Mr. Birchenall. He believes that colleges “do not mind” which test a student takes, but also emphasizes that the ACT, “can be submitted in lieu of the SAT subject tests, saving a student more time.” With this in mind, Ms. Grier advises her students to, “take a predictive test for both the SAT and ACT,” to find out which test he or she prefers.

At the end of the day, the SAT and the ACT are both challenging admission tests, without one having a clear advantage over the other. With this in mind, students should keep an open mind as to which test to take.