By Jessica Brondo of The Edge
Now that you’re a couple of weeks into your second semester and you’ve hopefully analyzed your PSAT results from October, it is time for you to start thinking about the tests that count: the SAT and the ACT. While most students used to opt for the SAT, the ACT is becoming increasingly more popular throughout the country. All schools are now accepting the ACT in place of the SAT, so you can submit one test or both when applying, but now is the most important time to determine which test is more suitable for you.
While both tests serve the same general purpose as college entrance exams, there are major differences between the two tests and it is often the case that students will perform far better on one test than the other. The topics covered on the two tests are similar: the SAT has three sections (Reading, Math, and Writing) and the ACT has four (English, Math, Reading, and Science). The Math sections are the most similar in that they each test students’ skills in arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and advanced topics. Although the advanced topics on the ACT are a little more similar to those tested in high school math classes (logarithms, trigonometry, etc). The English section on the ACT and the Writing section on the SAT are very similar in that they both test basic grammar skills, but whereas the SAT has three question types, the ACT only has one. The Reading section on the SAT has both critical reading questions and sentence completion questions that test a student’s knowledge of advanced vocabulary; however, the Reading section on the ACT is comprised of four critical reading passages, so is sometimes a better option for students who have not studied vocabulary in school. The Science section does not actually test students’ knowledge of science, but instead focuses on a student’s ability to read and interpret graphs and charts.
The scores on the exams are vastly different: the SAT is out of a total of 2400 points and the ACT is out of a maximum of 36 points. Each section of the SAT is worth 800 points and the totals for each section are added together to give the overall score. Each section of the ACT is out of 36 points and the total score for each section is averaged to give the composite score for the exam. Furthermore, the ways the tests are graded are also different. The SAT is a negative marking exam that awards 1 point for every correct answer, but also subtracts ¼ point for every incorrect answer. Because of this, it is sometimes better for a student to omit a question rather than answer incorrectly so as not to lose point. The ACT, on the other hand, only gives points for correct answers, so a student should not leave any questions blank since an omit and a wrong answer are treated essentially the same.
How to Choose
The best way for a student to decide which test is right for her is really to take a practice test in each and compare starting scores. If one score is significantly better than the other, it is probably wise to just focus your efforts on that test. If the scores are comparable, it might not be a bad idea to prep for both since they are given at different times throughout the year. In the winter and spring, the SAT is given in January, March (not in all locations), May, and June and the ACT is given in February (not in all locations), April, and June., so there are several opportunities for a student to take each exam multiple times.
For more information on the college admissions process and test preparation issues, or to take a practice SAT or ACT, visit The Edge online at www.edgeincollegeprep.com or call us today at 877-499-EDGE to inquire about our current programs.