College admission criteria include a variety of factors including grades and extracurricular activities. Near the top of the list of admission criteria for many colleges are ACT and SAT test scores. While some colleges have moved the importance away from admission test scores in recent years, the ACT and SAT still play an important part of a competitive college admission strategy.
Therefore, to thoroughly prepare for the admissions process, a student must take either the ACT or the SAT. Colleges don’t have a preference for which test you choose, so how do you decide which test is better for you?
In many ways the two tests are quite similar. Both the ACT and SAT are content-based tests that consist of four sections, exclusive of the writing section. Neither test penalizes the test-taker for wrong answers, and both tests allow for score choice, meaning the student can choose which scores to send to colleges.
While the ACT and SAT have many similarities, there are a few key differences to be aware of. The most obvious difference is that the ACT includes a science section. However, instead of testing one’s knowledge of science, the science section on the ACT actually tests one’s ability to analyze given information and situations and to evaluate scientific hypotheses. So, a comprehensive knowledge of science is not a prerequisite to do well on the ACT. Additionally, the SAT contains questions on scientific topics as well, just not in its own section.
Another obvious difference between the two tests is time. While the overall length of time is similar between the two tests, you have significantly less time per question on the ACT than you do on the SAT. Therefore, the ACT requires you to stay focused, work quickly, and manage your time wisely.
Finally, the math sections between the two tests have some clear differences. First of all, the ACT allows students to use a calculator on the entire math section. Conversely, there is a math section on the SAT that does not allow the use of a calculator at all. Therefore, students should be comfortable doing simple calculations by hand. On the other hand, the SAT provides basic formulas for the math section, something that the ACT does not do, even though the math tends to be slightly more advanced on the ACT. Another significant difference regarding the math sections relates to the scoring. The math score accounts for half of a student’s overall SAT score but only a quarter of his or her overall ACT score.
Even after understanding the major differences between the two tests, it still may be unclear which is a better option for you. Therefore, it’s a good idea to take a practice test for both the ACT and the SAT to determine which is a better fit. You can find practice tests for each online. Invest a little time to really get a feel for what each test is like. Make sure to complete each test in its entirely and score your answers. Doing so will give you an accurate picture of which test is more suitable to your strengths and testing style.
Investing the time early on can pay off with a better score down the road. While testing is only one piece of the college admission criteria, it is an important one, and you want to make an informed choice when selecting which test to take.
Dr. Jeff Haig, Dr. Brian Haig, and Maya Kelley, MS