The Dreaded Tests: the ACT vs. the SAT

Kelsey Williams

As students approach their junior year, they feel forced to make the dreaded decision: ACT or SAT? Although taking both is a popular option, choosing the one that best suits you will limit the money you spend and the number of times you are glued to a desk for four hours while taking a tedious test that strongly influences your future. To help you decide which test is best for you, Mirador compiled some key components of each test and talked to local experts and students:

It is difficult to classify a group of students and tell them to take the ACT or the SAT because it is a very personal decision. Many students claim that the questions on the ACT are more straightforward than those of the SAT. However, the one thing that can be determined is that a more science-oriented student would most likely prefer the ACT due to its science section.

“The ACT is more user friendly since the questions are not designed to trick students, however the ACT includes a killer science section, which has no corollary on the SAT. The SAT, on the other hand, takes pains to trick, trap, and confuse students in the way questions are worded. College Board is not your friend,” said SAT and ACT tutor Tom Clements.

“The Math SAT II is very ‘mathy’ but the math section in the regular SAT is more tricky and requires students to be very careful,” said math teacher Nancy Wong.

“If a student is strong in math and science, they will shine on the ACT. Some colleges prefer one over the other, but if a student is pursuing science or engineering professions, the college will look more at the ACT. For example, if a student is applying for the engineering program at CalPoly, the admissions office will look for the ACT. I recommend taking advantage of the Naviance shortened evaluation tests, which is an excellent indicator of which test is better for you,” said college and career counselor Eloise Schneider.
“It’s hard to know which test you should take, but if you’re strong in science, then the ACT would be a better choice. The style of questions is different on each test, and I know of many students who did a lot better on the ACT. However, I always recommend taking both because you just don’t know. All colleges will accept both tests, but some schools prefer one to the other. Many Midwest colleges prefer the ACT,” said Head Counselor Lois Halls.

“The ACT was harder because, although the questions are easier, there are more of them and less time to complete them. I had trouble finishing in time. The math section was easier on the ACT because the math on the SAT is stuff you learned a long time ago. The SAT was also easier for me because I took a prep class, whereas I went into ACT without any idea as to what I was taking,” said senior Katharine Pearce.

“The math on the SAT is like eighth grade level math with tricks. It’s gamey. It doesn’t actually test your math knowledge, just your ability to find tricks. You have to be very careful. The math on the ACT actually tests your knowledge instead of being a game like the SAT,” said senior Adam Mysorewala.

“I can’t say anything about either of the tests because I’d just rip them apart. But if I have to choose one over the other, I guess I’d prefer the ACT,” said senior Patrick Gabrielli.

Consists of English, Math, Reading, Science, and Writing (optional)
English: 45 minutes; Math: 60 minutes; Reading: 35 minutes; Science: 35 minutes; Writing: 30 minutes
Highest possible score: 36
Total number of questions: 215
Six national test dates
National average ACT composite score of 2009: 21.1
Science section: analysis, interpretation, evaluation, basic content, and problem solving
Accepted by all U.S. four-year colleges
No penalty for wrong answers

Consists of Writing (essay and grammar), Math, and Critical Reading (also includes an extra tenth section, which varies test to test)
Writing: 60 minutes (25 minutes for essay and 35 minutes for grammar); Math: 70 minutes; Critical Reading: 70 minutes

Highest possible score: 2400
Total number of questions: 170
Seven national test dates
National average SAT composite score of 2009: 1520
About 2 million students take the SAT worldwide each year
Accepted by all U.S. four-year colleges
¼ point subtracted for each wrong answer (except for math Grid-in problems)