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Should I Take the ACT or SAT?

Ask The College Counselor: Should I Take the ACT or SAT? 

The information below was written for the Long Islander News by Daniel Kalina, a Commack-based education consultant.

First thing’s first…The ACT and SAT are different tests that measure similar but distinct concepts. The ACT measures achievement related to high school curricula, while the SAT measures general verbal and quantitative reasoning.

Secondly: Know that colleges will accept either the SAT or ACT. So which should you take? It’s all about the numbers. Some students end up scoring substantially higher on the SAT; others do better on the ACT. In lieu of a crystal ball, speak with your teachers and counselor to help you determine which test is a better fit with your abilities.

How do the tests compare?

  • ACT questions tend to be more straightforward
  • ACT questions are often easier to understand on a first read. On the SAT, you may need to spend more time figuring out what you’re being asked before you can start solving the problem.
  • The SAT has a stronger emphasis on vocabulary. If you’re ann ardent wordsmith, you’ll love the SAT. If words aren’t your thing, you may do better on the ACT.
  • The ACT has a science section, while the SAT does not.
  • The ACT tests more advanced math concepts. In addition to basic arithmetic, algebra I and II, and geometry, the ACT tests your knowledge of trigonometry, too. That said, the ACT math section is not necessarily harder, since many students find the questions to be more straightforward than those on the SAT.
  • The ACT Writing Test is optional, but is required by many schools.
  • The SAT essay was required and was factored into your writing score. The ACT writing test is optional. If you choose to take it, it is not included in your composite score – schools will see it listed separately. many colleges require the writing section of the ACT, so be sure to check with the schools where you are applying before opting out.
  • The SAT is broken up into more sections.
  • On the ACT, you tackle each content area (English, Math, Reading and Science) in one big chunk, with the optional writing test at the end. On the SAT, the content areas (Critical Reading, Math and Writing) are broken up into 10 sections, with the required essay at the beginning. You do a little math, a little writing, a little critical reading, a little more math, etc. When choosing between the SAT and ACT, ask yourself if moving back and forth between content areas confuses you or keeps you energized.
  • The ACT is more of a “big picture” exam. College admissions officers care about how you did on each section of the SAT. On the ACT, they’re usually most concerned with your composite score. So if you’re weak in one content area but strong in others, you could still end up with a very good ACT score and thus make a strong impression with the admissions committee.

Something to keep in mind, however, is that the College Board is launching a redesigned SAT in March 2016 and a redesigned PSAT/NMSQT and PSATTM 8/9 in October 2015. More closely aligned to challenging classroom work, the redesigned assessments will focus on the few things that evidence shows matter most for college and career readiness. The exams are supposed to be clearer and more open than any in the College Board’s history.

The redesign affects the way the test is structured, administered, timed and scored. An optional essay, fewer multiple choice questions, and no penalty for wrong answers are just some of the new features. You can also expect an increased emphasis on critical thinking, problem-solving, and data analysis.

The new SAT will return to the 1600-point scale, with the math and reading sections scored between 200 and 800, and the optional essay evaluated separately. The 1/4-point penalty for wrong answers will be discontinued.

The redesigned SAT will be 3 hours long, whereas the current version of the SAT takes about 3 hours and 45 minutes. If students choose to do the optional essay, the exam will extend to 3 hours and 50 minutes.

The New SAT: Evidence-Based Reading and Writing

This part of the test will be 100 minutes long; reading will be 65 minutes, and writing/language, 35 minutes. Now, what is called “Critical Reading” is covered in three sections of 25 minutes, 25 minutes, and 20 minutes, amounting to 70 minutes total, and writing is covered with an essay and two multiple choice sections of 25 minutes, 20 minutes, and 10 minutes for 55 minutes total.

The new reading part of test will contain 52 questions on four single passages and 1 set of paired passages. Now, critical reading consists of sentence completion and passage-based multiple-choice problems from 67 questions.

The New SAT: Mathematics

The redesigned math sections of the exam will contain two sections. The first is 55 minutes, 37 questions with a calculator allowed. The second is 25 minutes, 20 questions with no calculator allowed. Now the SAT math test has three sections: 25 minutes, and 20 minutes with 54 questions total and a calculator is allowed in all. On the new SAT, there will be

Now the SAT math test has three sections: 25 minutes, and 20 minutes with 54 questions total and a calculator is allowed in all. On the new SAT, there will be

On the new SAT, there will be 45 multiple choice questions, 11 grid-ins (each worth 1 point), and one extended thinking grid-in question worth 4 points. Now there are 44 multiple choice questions and 10 grid-ins, for a total of 54 questions.

On the new SAT, many of the questions will focus on solving algebraic equations, inequalities, and polynomials. Graphing and modeling will also be important, as will percentages, proportions, rates, ratios, and unit conversions. Now, just over one-third of the math section focuses on algebraic equations and inequalities, and a little less than a quarter of the math section tests percentages and proportions. Graphing and modeling does not seem to be tested extensively.

Finally, on the new SAT, only six questions will focus on geometry. The areas covered could include arc length, sector area, trigonometry, complex numbers and volume. Now, there are 14-16 questions on geometry and measurement.

When selecting a prep plan, you should choose one that best addresses your score goals, while providing adequate time to balance your schedule and studies. Most colleges and universities are still deciding whether they will require the essay in 2016. Check with your target schools to see what they require or will review as part of their admissions decisions.