SAT versus ACT

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Elizabeth Bachmann ’17

In this season of standardized testing, Convent of the Sacred Heart juniors ponder the question of whether to take the SAT or ACT.
The SAT was more popular until 2006, but by 2010 the number of ACT takers was comparable to the number of SAT takers, according to washingtonpost.com.
Both testing companies have implemented changes to the structure, questions, and scoring systems of their tests in order to compete with one another.
Currently, the ACT is broken up into a 45-minute english section, a 60-minute math section, a 35-minute reading section, a 35-minute science section, and an optional 35-minute writing section. With the writing section, the ACT adds up to three hours and 35 minutes.

Elizabeth Bachmann '17
Elizabeth Bachmann ’17

Each of the four sections of the ACT is awarded a score between one and 36. The composite score is the average of these four scores.
Anthony-James Green, dubbed “America’s top SAT tutor” by Business Weekly, said on his test prep company website greentestprep that the ACT is less deliberately confusing than the old SAT, but its questions are objectively harder.
While the ACT has not changed significantly in recent years, in 2016 The College Board made major changes to the SAT test structure.
Before its modifications, the SAT began with an optional essay, and consisted of of ten sections alternating between reading, math, writing, and an experimental section. Unlike the ACT, which consolidates all of the material for each subject into a single section, and whose experimental sections are obvious and only administered on certain test dates, the SAT broke each subject down into three separate sections and was a total of three hours and 50 minutes. 
“I really like the timing of the old SAT. It was more beneficial for me because it allowed more time per question. I was able to finish and check my work, and that made it a lot less stressful,” junior Allie Grusky said.
Before The College Board made changes to the SAT, there was a significant difference between the two tests. According to Mr. Anthony-James Green, the ACT had a more challenging math section and did not focus on specific vocabulary knowledge, while the SAT had 19 questions dedicated specifically to vocabulary, and tested less complex mathematical theories. This made the old SAT better suited to reading inclined students, and the ACT better suited to mathematically inclined students. According to Mr. Green, the timing of the ACT also caters to students who are good at time management, while the SAT moves at a slower pace.
However, with the recent changes to the SAT, its structure and time management requirements closely resemble those of the ACT, leaving students with a limited choice for test variety.
The new SAT, like the ACT, is comprised of four sections: math, critical reading, writing, and an optional essay. In total, it is three hours and 50 minutes.
One of the main criticisms of the old SAT was that the information on the test had little application to students’ college careers, and that students could achieve higher scores by learning test tricks. The College Board President Mr. David Coleman promises that the new SAT will be more aligned with topics students learn in school, and will promote college readiness. He also promises that the new test will remove a penalty for wrong answers, and will be more straightforward, according to theatlantic.com.
“I took the old SAT, and I don’t feel as though it tested my knowledge. It was more about my ability to decipher complicated questions and answer choices,” junior Courtney Smith said.
While the SAT and ACT are becoming more similar, they still maintain certain unique features.
The College Board will continue to list SAT reading comprehension questions chronologically, while ACT questions appear in a random order, and allow less time per question, according to prepscholar.com.
More distinctions appear between the math sections of the two tests. The new SAT, in an effort to focus on topics students see in the classroom, features mostly algebra, with only six questions about geometry and trigonometry. The ACT tests a wider variety of topics, and half to three quarters of the math test require trigonometry and geometry.
Another major difference between ACT and SAT math sections lies in the SAT’s new no calculator section. The College Board inserted this section to better test fluency in math and in number sense, according to collegeboard.org
“The new no calculator section was definitely harder than I expected it to be, but other than that I thought the math sections were pretty fair,” junior Mackenzie Jordan said.
Perhaps the most obvious difference between the SAT and ACT is the presence of the ACT science section. This section does not actually test knowledge of scientific fact, rather, it tests scientific aptitude by measuring a student’s reasoning, problem-solving, interpretation, evaluation, and analysis skills, according to act.org.
“I think that the science section is misnamed, as it does not test science at all. It is a combination of math and graph comprehension. You do not need to have much scientific knowledge in order to do well, but it is definitely one of the trickier sections,” junior Katie Kablack said.
-Elizabeth Bachmann, Co-Features Editor