SAT v ACT: Which one helps or hurts test takers

Finding out which college readiness test will give the best score for college applications

Lochan Mourty, Staff Writer

Many colleges and universities require either the SAT or the ACT test scores, but it is important for students to know which test is the right one for them to take. Both of the exams are structured a bit differently, meaning that depending on what areas people are strongest in, one test might possibly earn them a higher score than the other.

According to Prep Scholar Classes, the SAT consists of a 65 minute reading portion with 52 questions, and a 35 minute writing and language portion with 44 questions. There is also an 80 minute math portion with 58 total questions split between a calculator and a no-calculator section. The highest possible score one can get on their SAT is a 1600, with an 800 in math and an 800 in English.

On the other hand, the ACT has a 45 minute English section with 75 questions, a 60 minute math section with 60 questions, a 35 minute reading section consisting of 40 questions and a 35 minute science section with 40 questions as well. The highest ACT score possible is a 36, averaging your scaled English, math, reading, and sciences scores.

For people that struggle in math, the ACT is a better option, since it only counts toward one-fourth of the overall score. This test also allows a calculator to be used on all sections of the math test, and it does not include grid-in questions, all things that the SAT does not accommodate.

However, the SAT provides a basic formula chart that the ACT does not. Also, the ACT may test a few math concepts that the SAT either pays little attention to or ignores entirely. For example, the ACT is much more inclusive of geometry questions and brings some new concepts to the table, such as logarithms and matrices.

Students that have difficulty with science classes in school may be apprehensive about the science section of the ACT, but there is nothing to worry about; the science section requires little to no background knowledge about the material. Instead, this section of the exam tests cognitive skills such as logical reasoning and problem solving. As long as test takers brush up on their scientific skills learned in school, this section should not be too difficult.

A lot of individuals find themselves struggling with the time crunches that these big exams press on them. In this case, the SAT might be preferable over the ACT, since it provides more time for the total English and total math sections of the tests; therefore, it leaves additional room for people to think more clearly and check over their answers.

In regards to the reading section of the SAT, the questions tend to follow a chronological order and are therefore easier to process and answer, whereas the ACT might have students skipping around the passages to pinpoint the correct answers. For those planning on taking the essays along with their exams, there are important differences to note between both as well.

With the SAT essay, students will need to read an article in which the author constructs an argument supporting his/her claim. Their essays will need to dissect their author’s arguments and pull evidence from the articles in order to explain how said arguments were successfully supported. A key thing to remember about SAT essays is that those writing them must NOT allow their own opinions to leak into their analysis of the author’s writing.

With the ACT essay, however, testers are instead required to analyze multiple perspectives on one topic and compare and contrast them. This time, individuals MUST state their opinions on the matter and support their own arguments with detailed examples.

Even with prior knowledge of the exams, some students might still struggle to decide which one they should take. It is recommended that they take at least one practice SAT and ACT, since this will allow them to get a better feel for the tests and then choose which one they would like to take for real. Practice SATs are available on Khan Academy, and although this website does not include ACT prep, a bit more online researching should pull up a couple websites that do have those, such as PowerScore and 4Tests.

Deciding which exam is right for each person can be a challenge, but with a little research, it can be done.