For many years the SAT and the ACT were preferred by students based on their geographical area and the schools to which they were applying. Now that most colleges accept either, the choice is left to the individual preference of the student. But how to decide?
The SAT, revamped significantly over the past year, has long held the reputation of being a great option for students with strengths in reading and writing. On the other hand, the ACT was often considered the best test for those students more inclined to math and science. Nowadays, these reputations are not necessarily valid. The newly designed SAT, debuting this past March, includes cross-test scores in History/Social Studies and Science. The exam focuses on 4 individual tests - one in Evidence-Based Reading, one in Writing and Language, and two in Math (only one permitting the use of a calculator) - with science and history pieces incorporated throughout the exam. On the redesigned test, a student may be asked to examine the author's intent in a Nelson Mandela speech or decide whether a chart accurately reflects the results of a scientific experiment. Morevoer, the math test questions are designed to be similar to those a student may face in a future career such as maximizing profit or calculating sales tax. These more well-rounded test questions are designed to give a better indicator of a student's college readiness, but may also appeal to those math and science students who historically tended to prefer the ACT.
With fewer recent changes, the ACT continues to use their four-test approach, which includes one Reading test, one English test, one Math test, and one Science test. Like the SAT, outside knowledge of literature or specific science pieces is not required, but can be helpful. The ACT continues to emphasize grammar skills in it's English test, critical reading skills in the Reading test, and math problems more in line with those on a high school math test. The ACT's major change came last fall with the redesign of the Essay test. Previously an opinion or persuasive argument piece, the new ACT essay requires a student to read a prompt, analyze three perspectives, and discuss their own perspective in relation to the given perspectives. This essay style is often seen in more advanced high school literature classes and should appeal to those students adept at analyzing arguments. It will also provide colleges with a more direct representation of a student's understanding of standard written language conventions and his own writing ability. Like the SAT, this test change makes the ACT a more attractive option for students typically inclined to stay away.
Understanding the test differences between the SAT and ACT is imperative in deciding which test is best for you. However, only taking a mock version of each exam can give full insight into a student’s strengths and weaknesses. Mock exams, or practice tests, can be done online, on your own, or with a tutoring company. The time and monetary investment may save headaches down the road. Choosing the right test sets the tone for a student's college application process and builds confidence during this important time.