Students Weigh in on SAT vs ACT

Junior Emerson Barrett brushes up on her math skills before taking the SAT and ACT. Photo: Mary Childs Hall

For high school students, “SAT” and “ACT” are probably familiar acronyms among peers, teachers and parents. The SAT and ACT are standardized tests taken by juniors and seniors across the U.S. in advance of submitting applications to colleges. With the college process on the horizon for many, students must begin to learn about these tests in order to prepare for taking them.

First off, both the SAT and ACT measure students’ skills, like problem solving and reading comprehension, in various areas that are necessary for college success. As students apply to colleges, schools use the scores in their decision-making for admissions and merit-based scholarships. Therefore, high school students take tremendous amounts of time from their jam-packed schedules to prepare in order to score highly on these tests.

All colleges accept scores from either test, meaning there is no advantage in taking one over another. However, it is important to look further into the tests to determine which one might better suit individual strengths and weaknesses.

At a glance, the two tests are fairly similar, both including basic reading and math sections and optional essays. Also, both tests use a scoring system of rights-only, meaning the test taker is not penalized for providing incorrect answers, as only right answers are tallied.

However, the tests differ in many ways. While the SAT includes reading, writing and language, calculator math and non-calculator math portions, the ACT is composed of English, calculator math, reading and science sections.

According to many students, the major difference between the two tests is the timing. The SAT provides 65 minutes for the 52-question reading section, while the ACT allows 35 minutes for the 40-question reading section. Therefore, the SAT usually proves better for students who like to take more time with reading passages and math problems.

“I prefer the SAT because you get much more time than on the ACT,” said junior Mae Shippen. “It allows me to work at a pace where I do not feel as rushed.” According to Shippen, she likes the SAT because of the grammar section, which the ACT does not have. This section contains simple questions with material that Pace students are typically familiar with. 

On the other hand, some students prefer the ACT because of the content included on it. “Although the SAT is slower, I take the ACT because I am able to work faster through the material because it is much easier,” said junior Evan Duncan. The questions do not require as much analytical thinking as the ones on the SAT. “The ACT is a more straightforward test with questions that are not meant to trick you,” said junior Jordan Upchurch. “I definitely prefer this test because it is much easier to be able to work hard in order to improve your score.”

The ACT contains a section entirely devoted to science. For some, the science section is frightening because many of the included topics are unfamiliar or confusing. However, some people actually prefer the ACT solely because of this portion. “I like the science section because all you have to do is just be able to read and understand graphs in order to do well,” said junior Sam Harris.

Although these tests may cause stress and anxiety, students do have choices. In order to reduce uncertainty, one should take practice tests of both the SAT and ACT to get an in-depth look at each. Also, test-takers can talk to older siblings or classmates to learn what worked for them and what did not. Students advise that it’s important for each individual to take the time to determine which test they feel more comfortable taking.


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