ACT or SAT? Which Is Right For Me?
As a high schooler growing up in Chicago in the mid-to-late 1980s, I never stressed out about the ACT and didn’t know a single person that had taken the SAT. I didn’t see a tutor or take a prep class, in fact I’m not even sure if those existed at my school. The night before I took my only ACT, I went out for burritos with my buddies and got home a little after 10 p.m. Although I was slightly disappointed with my 28 composite score, the thought of taking it again never crossed my mind and my parents had no idea that was possible.
Times have certainly changed.
With standardized tests playing a much more significant role in the college admissions process, and with some states like Illinois switching from the ACT to the newly redesigned SAT for statewide testing, many high school students and their parents are feeling anxious and confused about which test to take and how best to prepare. There are distinct differences between the SAT and ACT and one of our goals at Partners For Achievement (PFA) is to help our students determine which exam is best for them.
…many high school students and their parents are feeling anxious and confused about which test to take and how best to prepare.
We work with several test prep companies to provide our students with the opportunity to take proctored practice tests for both the SAT and ACT. After reviewing the results, PFA provides recommendations that best suit our students’ needs—ranging from utilizing the online test prep courses that are part of our program to making introductions to private one-on-one tutors in their area.
There are several factors that families need to consider when assessing the contrasts between the ACT and SAT, including:
- Math. Math represents half the scoring on the SAT, whereas it’s only a quarter of the ACT score. There is no calculator allowed on part of the SAT’s math section, but the ACT has no such restrictions. If math isn’t your student’s strong suit, then the ACT is definitely a better option.
- Reading. The ACT has a much smaller time window, about 52 seconds per question versus one minute 15 seconds per question on the SAT. Consequently, many kids struggle to complete the ACT’s reading section in the allotted time. On the flipside, the SAT reading section has a more comfortable pace but the vocabulary and level of difficulty is more challenging.
- Science. The ACT has a dedicated science section, whereas science material is incorporated into the reading, and writing and language sections of the SAT.
- Accommodations. Many students with learning differences have IEPs (Individualized Education Programs) or 504 Plans and are granted accommodations for the standardized tests. On the SAT, students with accommodations will receive time and a half for each section. On the ACT, however, the block of extra time isn’t specified by subject, meaning that if students breeze through the English section, they’ll have more time to tackle math, reading and science. Unlike the SAT, the ACT also has several other types of accommodations including multi-day testing, stop the clock breaks and the ability to answer questions in the booklet instead of a bubble sheet.
Colleges now accept both the ACT and SAT, so it’s important to select the test that plays to your strengths.
Colleges now accept both the ACT and SAT, so it’s important to select the test that plays to your strengths. Both exams are very coachable, so students will see noticeable improvement in their scores if they’re willing to put in the effort to practice and prepare. In very general terms, students who read often, have a rich vocabulary and who are strong in math have traditionally performed well on the SAT, while well-rounded students who can work efficiently or students with testing accommodations may be better suited for the ACT.
Families certainly have many things to consider to help their kids successfully navigate the standardized testing portion of the college planning process. The key is to evaluate all of the variables as they relate to your children and the schools they are considering, and then to create a plan that will help them maximize their merit scholarships and achieve the best admissions results possible.
It’s crazy to think that 30 years has passed since I took my lone ACT. I’m now the father of three daughters, with the oldest about to enter her junior year of high school and the vortex of ACT / SAT madness. Whatever scores she ends up with, I’ll be sure to remind her that standardized test scores will never define who she is as a person and what she will be capable of accomplishing in her life. I’ll also strongly recommend that she not eat a large skirt steak burrito the night before her exams.
Kevin Krebs is the founder of Partners For Achievement located in Oakbrook Terrace, Ill. Read more about Krebs and the rest of the Partners For Achievement team.
Related article: Upcoming ACT/SAT Registration Deadlines