by Isaiah Donovan
As students progress through high school, college plans loom on the horizon. For many, assembling a satisfactory curriculum is a source of unending stress. Of course, college is not in the cards for every high schooler, however the majority of students move on to some sort of further education. In their quest to condense their entire educational career into a single document, standardized tests become a way for students to express their knowledge, especially in cases where they are lacking in other areas. Standardized tests also may offer opportunity to receive merit scholarships and awards, which are crucial for many students.
Which Test Should You Take?
It is then that the true question emerges: What test to take? Most colleges and universities expect or require students to complete the ACT or the SAT. Every student has unique skills and areas of interest, and in truth, there is no test that will suit them perfectly. However, there are certainly aspects of each exam that many would find appealing over the other.
The History of the Test
Before an analysis, the history of these tests should be considered. The College Board was formed in 1900, and the organization set out to standardize the admissions process. Roughly 23 years later, Carl C. Bingham administered an altered version of the Army IQ test to Princeton freshmen, and was put in charge of a College Board committee to adapt the test once again. This exam would later become the aptitude test called the SAT (History of the SAT: A Timeline). In 1959, Everett Franklin Lindquist, a professor at the University of Iowa developed an alternative to the SAT, one that would assess a student’s current knowledge rather than their ability to learn. This ACT became more prominent over time, surpassing the SAT in the number of test takers in 2012. As of 2015, 1,924,436 students take the ACT that year, compared to 1,548,198 taking the SAT (Zhang). The SAT began to adapt its process to be more similar to the ACT, and focuses more on assessing current knowledge rather than future success.
A Common Misconception
Many students, particularly those around the east coast, suffer the misconception that the SAT is more widely accepted, or that the ACT is made for the middle of the country. In fact, the ACT is not only more prominent than the SAT, but is accepted by all universities across the country (Zhang). Whether or not eastern schools are biased toward the SAT is unknown, but there is very little evidence to support the claim.
The Key Difference
The SAT and ACT differ in many ways besides the number of test takers or areas of application. The different exam sections focus on varying topics. For instance, the ACT allows all questions to be answered with a calculator, while the SAT only allows a calculator on some portions of the test. This could be important for students with less confidence in their ability to solve more basic math problems. The ACT also has a dedicated science section centering on data analysis and scientific investigation. These aspects are important for many of the more analytically minded juniors and seniors. If they are skilled in these areas, they certainly have an edge entering the test, and those who are inclined to join engineering or math based programs in college tend want to show their affinity for the subject by displaying a high score on the ACT.
The Super Score
Another key difference between the SAT and the ACT is the ability to superscore. Superscoring is the ability to choose certain scores from each section on a college entrance exam and form a composite score of all your highest score subcategories. (Note that is is distinct from Score Choice, the chance to choose the highest score on one test from all test dates to send to colleges.) Roughly 200 schools superscore the ACT (Safier, Colleges That Superscore ACT: Complete List), while roughly 900 superscore the SAT (Safier, Which Colleges Superscore the SAT?) .
The Subject Test
Sometimes the SAT cannot be taken alone. An SAT subject test is a specialty exam that focuses on a specific skill that the regular SAT does not put emphasis on, ranging from Literature to US History to Latin. Some of the most elite universities recommend taking at least two SAT subject tests as well as the SAT, and a few even require it in the application process. However, many of these same universities will accept an ACT score in place of an SAT subject test, making it a suitable choice for those who want to be competitive in the admissions process without the added strain of studying for more exams.
The SAT and ACT also vary in time length. The ACT has a time limit of 175 minutes (215 with optional essay), while the SAT has a limit of 180 minutes (230 with essay) (Lindsay). The SAT’s time limit is only slightly longer, but is fit for two sections rather than the three of the ACT. However, the SAT has five reading sections compared to the ACT’s four.
The Price of Knowledge
An important aspect to consider, especially for students who wish to take their test of choice multiple times, is cost. The ACT costs $103 to take ($120 with the essay), while the SAT is priced at a lesser $80 ($92 with essay) (Cheng). This is an important aspect for families under financial duress, particularly if they plan to superscore with multiple tests. There are opportunities for fee waivers, but many students do not wish to undergo the hassle or embarrassment of applying. Moreso, the SAT subject test carries a $26 registration fee, which would otherwise be eliminated if the ACT is chosen.
What It Comes Down To
There are many reasons why standardized testing can be a poor reflection of one’s intellect or acquired knowledge, from test anxiety to poor preparation. No matter a student’s opinion on testing, chances are they will have to take some form of exam if they wish to continue to another level of education. There are certainly valid reasons to take one test over the other, but ultimately it comes down to personal preference. The more comfortable a student is with the test they are taking, the better scores they will receive.
Cheng, Allen. “SAT / ACT Prep Online Guides and Tips.” SAT Cost, ACT Cost, and How to Save Money, blog.prepscholar.com/sat-cost-act-cost-and-how-to-save-money.
“Here Are the High School Classes That Prepare You for the SAT and ACT.” Prep | The Princeton Review, http://www.princetonreview.com/college-advice/high-school-classes-prep-sat-act
“History of the SAT: A Timeline.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/sats/where/timeline.html.
Lindsay, Samantha. “SAT / ACT Prep Online Guides and Tips.” The History of the ACT Test, blog.prepscholar.com/the-history-of-the-act-test.
Safier, Rebecca. “SAT / ACT Prep Online Guides and Tips.” Colleges That Superscore ACT: Complete List, blog.prepscholar.com/colleges-that-superscore-act-complete-list.
Safier, Rebecca. “SAT / ACT Prep Online Guides and Tips.” Complete List: Colleges That Require SAT Subject Tests, blog.prepscholar.com/complete-list-of-colleges-that-require-sat-subject-tests.
Safier, Rebecca. “SAT / ACT Prep Online Guides and Tips.” Which Colleges Superscore the SAT?, blog.prepscholar.com/which-colleges-superscore-the-sat.
Strauss, Valerie. “What Does the SAT Measure? Aptitude? Achievement? Anything?”The Washington Post, WP Company, 22 Apr. 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2014/04/22/what-does-the-sat-measure-aptitude-achievement-anything/?utm_term=.af2f50a1611a.
Zhang, Dr. Fred. “SAT / ACT Prep Online Guides and Tips.” Do Colleges Accept ACT Takers as Much as SAT Takers? Is the ACT Disadvantaged?, blog.prepscholar.com/do-colleges-accept-act-takers-vs-sat-act-disadvantaged.