Blog Post by Elizabeth Fink, 2021 Peak Intern
Elizabeth Fink was the valedictorian of her high school’s senior class. She earned a 1600 on the SAT and currently attends the University of Virginia as an Echols Scholar. She has not declared a major yet, but is planning to apply to the Mcintire School of Commerce as a second year. Outside of the classroom, she plays soccer and runs track, and she loves to spend time with her friends and family. Elizabeth also served as a mentor/tutor to elementary school children as part of the PeakMATES program.
SEVEN FACTORS TO DECIDING BETWEEN THE SAT AND ACT
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many colleges decided to go test-optional for the 2020-2021 admissions cycle due to the limited availability of testing and other hardships. Some schools, including the Eight Ivies, extended test-optional policies to the ensuing admissions cycles, while others have decided to permanently extend test-optional policies. You might be wondering: is taking the SAT or ACT valuable anymore? The answer is still yes: taking the SAT or ACT can be highly valuable. If you perform well on the SAT or ACT, your score can help distinguish you from other highly qualified candidates from different backgrounds. Especially as more and more students decide not to submit test scores, scoring well on either exam will allow you to stand out.
The question now becomes: should you take the SAT or the ACT?
One of the first steps I would recommend is to take a proctored SAT Exam and a proctored ACT exam in two separate sittings without studying in advance. Sitting for both may seem daunting and time-consuming but will take less time than trying to take a shortcut. I took a combined SAT and ACT exam through Kaplan at first to try and save time, but I ended up needing to take a full-length official SAT and ACT afterward. Peak Performance offers free, proctored diagnostic tests for both the SAT and ACT. Once you finish, your scores and the item analyses can help determine which test you should take.
In addition to experiencing a practice test, here are six key differences between the SAT and the ACT that you should consider, as well as their influence on my decision to take the SAT.
One // Types of Sections: The SAT consists of four sections: Reading, Writing and Language, Math-No Calculator, and Math-Calculator. The ACT includes English, Math, Reading, and Science. The Science section on the ACT does not exist on the SAT, but it is essentially an extension of reading comprehension. Additionally, the SAT has a non-calculator component, whereas the ACT allows a calculator for its entire Math section.
Two // The Order of Sections: The sections in the SAT flow as follows: Reading, Writing and Language, Math-No Calculator, and Math-Calculator, whereas the ACT goes in a different order: English, Math, Reading, and Science.
Three // Time per Question: Generally, you will have less time to answer each question on the ACT. For example, on the SAT, you would have approximately 75 seconds per question on the Reading section, whereas on the ACT, you would have only 52 seconds per question.
Four // Scoring of the Exam: The range for scoring on the SAT is 400-1600. The Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and Math sections are each scored on a scale of 200-800, and the scores from both sections are added together. By contrast, the ACT is scored on a scale of 36. Instead of adding scores together, the ACT composite score is an average of all four scores on each of the sections.
Five // Reading Section: The types of questions in the Reading section vary as well. One of the main differences is the presence of “evidence-support” questions on the SAT (Question Type 1.2). This means that there will be a question about the passage, and the next question will ask you to select the best evidence to support your answer.
Six // Topics in Math: The SAT emphasizes more algebra-related questions, data analysis, and reasoning. Also, the SAT has grid-in questions, which means that there are no answer choices provided for you. The ACT does not focus as much on analysis and instead focuses on a wider range of concepts, including a greater emphasis on geometry, trigonometry, matrices, and logarithmic functions. (Trigonometry, matrices, and logarithmic functions are not on the SAT).
Seven // The Revised & Digital SAT Beginning March 2024: The SAT is undergoing a significant change beginning in March 2023 (international students) and March 2024 (domestic students). If you are done with your SAT preparation by December 2023, then this is not something you need to think about. But if you begin your preparation for the paper-based exam in 2023 and need to take the exam again in 2024, you'll be switching to a different medium and format. This may be a factor to consider for Class of '25 students who find themselves in the unique position of having the SAT change so dramatically in the middle of their test preparation cycle.
When you determine which test to take, you should consider these seven factors as well as any others that you find differentiate one test from another. I chose the SAT primarily because I enjoy math and the SAT catered more to my interests, but everyone is different. Some people may enjoy Reading Comprehension and the Science section; some people perform well with more pointed questions in a greater time constraint; some people may feel that math is a weakness and take the ACT because Math is only a quarter of the composite score. Neither test is better or harder than the other, but each caters to different interests. Whichever test you end up choosing, my best advice would be to focus on your weaknesses and continue to take proctored practice exams regularly.
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