Comparing the Sat and Act

All right. Are you about to take your standardized tests? Are you debating between the SAT and ACT? Well, I’m here to try to clear up the confusion of what test to take. Listen to the College bound student who just finished these.

First off. Decide where you’re going. One of the trends is for mid-western schools to take the ACT, while the coastal schools lean on the SAT. If you’re worried about the writing section of the SAT, don’t be. Most schools are going to start requiring the Writing section. Because of that, no matter what test you take, you should take the writing section. It’s not really optional anymore.

Second, decide what kind of test taker you are. The SATs are 3 hours and 45 minutes long, compared to the 3 hours and 25 minutes of the ACT. Now, if you ask me, I would say that the SATs are a kind of stamina test (How long can you keep going?) while the ACTs are a speed test (Answer as fast as you can!).

Now let’s get to the specifics.

First, the SAT. Each question is roughly worth a point, with each wrong answer worth a negative 1/4th point, and blanks worth nothing. The sum total is converted to The SAT has 3 large sections (10 subsections in the following areas, with one random experimental section), the Critical Reading, the Mathematics, and the Writing section. The first section you will take is the 25 minute essay that is a part of the Writing section. It doesn’t have to be a masterpiece. You just need a decent first draft. Later Writing sections are a test of your grammar, sentence structure

The next section is a Critical Reading section. There are three or four sections of this type. Each section starts with 5 to 8 sentence completions which test your grasp of vocabulary. These get progressively harder as each section goes on. Next are the passages. There are several passages that you are tested over comprehension. There is usually one much longer passage that you are tested on, and one section with two shorter essays where the questions ask you to compare the two tests.

There are three required math sections. These are usually straight forward math questions, a majority that are multiple choice, but there is a section with 10 “Grid-ins,” or the student produced answers. These questions are the exception to the wrong answer penalty. This math is usually to the level of simple trig (Sine, Cosine, Tangent relationships), Algebra, and Geometry.

Now the ACT. The ACT is a 4 section test, consisting of an English section, a Math Section, a Reading section, and a Science section. The English Section is a 45 minute grammar test of 75 questions. You can compare this section to the Writing section of the SAT, which is a lot smaller.

The Math section is a 60 minute section that covers 60 questions. The kind of math required for this test is basic Algebra, Geometry, and elementary trigonometry. It doesn’t have have the same Grid-in problems as the SATs.

The Reading section is a 35 minute section covering reading comprehension. There are 4 passages in different subjects which you are questioned on. These subjects are prose fiction, Social Science, Humanities, and Natural Sciences. You can compare this to the Critical Reading section of the SATs, except there are no sentence completions.

The Science section is a little bit misnamed. A better name would be graph comprehension. There is limited scientific knowledge that is required for this test. If you understand the scientific process, you’ll do fine.

So, a summary. The SAT is a stamina test. It gives you more time to answer the questions, but there are also a few more questions. The ACT assaults you with a relatively large amount of questions in a shorter amount of time. It tests your quick thinking abilities. Depending on your strengths, choose your tests. Both tests are accepted at most major colleges, so feel free to pick.

Now, a word of advice. I took both tests, and I was pleased with both of my scores. I recommend taking both tests for the sake of possibly getting a better score on one or the other. And remember, while practice tests are the one and only way of getting ready, don’t assume your bad scores will be reflective of your performance on the real thing. Think positive!

So, now that you’re hopefully a little more informed, pick up those Number 2 pencils, and good luck!