BY LINDSEY HANNAH
A year ago, college applications seemed a distant doom, a bridge that I would cross when I came to it. Who starts essays and applications and testing in their junior year? The answer is anyone who values sleep and sanity. One thing that is essential to start early is testing, especially since you have to wait to receive scores and retake exams.
There are two main tests that are basically interchangeable to colleges: the SAT and the ACT. You are probably wondering a couple of things: What is the difference? And which should I take?
The two tests are similar, but with a few key differences. The ACT has science, math, reading, and writing sections, while the SAT has reading, writing, and two math sections. While you can use a calculator for all of the math questions on the ACT, the SAT contains calculator and non-calculator sections. The science aspect of the SAT is worked into the language and math sections in various questions. Both tests now do not take off extra points for questions answered wrong as opposed to left blank, so guessing is encouraged for questions you don’t know the answer to.
Another difference is that the ACT has more questions in roughly the same amount of time as is provided in the SAT. The ACT is divided as follows: English: 45 minutes for 75 questions; math: 60 minutes for 60 questions; reading: 35 minutes for 4 passages and 40 questions; science: 35 minutes for 40 questions. There are no grid in responses. The SAT, on the other hand, is divided like this: reading: 65 minutes for 52 questions; non-calculator math: 25 minutes for 15 multiple choice and 5 grid in questions; calculator math: 55 minutes for 30 multiple choice and 8 grid in questions; writing: 35 minutes for 44 questions.
“The ACT is a little bit easier, so long as you can work within the time frame,” CCHS senior Derek Chan, who has taken both exams, said. “If you can, go on the same day as a friend.”
If you aren’t sure which test is best for you, it is best to take both as soon as you can so that you can assess which one you do better on. If you find the non-calculator section of the SAT throws you off and hurts your grade, maybe the ACT is better suited to your skills. If you feel rushed for time and miss questions on the ACT, the SAT is likely a better choice. The scores you receive can also be compared to see which one comes out on top.
“My favorite part about the SAT was that it didn’t have the science portion,“ CCHS senior Julianne Lee, having taken both the SAT and the ACT, said. “I felt that the timing was more realistic. I found it easier in general.”
Once you have figured out which is your test of choice, I suggest testing and retesting as many times as feels necessary in order to get your best score possible. Remember that most schools superscore, taking the highest scores from each section and combining them into one overall score, so make sure to send each score report to the colleges you are applying to as soon as you are able.
In between exam dates, it’s a good idea to practice in order to improve your score. There are many ways to do this, including practice books, mock exams, tutoring agencies, and simply brushing up on your formulas, grammar rules, and other information. The most important thing to remember is that without practice, odds are that your scores won’t improve much between test dates.
As someone who has taken both the SAT and the ACT, I can say that I scored similarly on both: a 33 on the ACT and a 1460 on the SAT. My personal experience is that I felt rushed on the reading section of the ACT, a subject I normally breeze through on other exams. On the other hand, I perform significantly worse on the SAT math sections than I did in the similar ACT section.
Both the SAT and the ACT are similar enough that you really can’t go wrong whichever one you choose. Finding out which is more suited to your skills, however, and focusing on that one can have a positive impact on your performance and ultimately has the potential to raise your scores. So look at your skill set, take practice tests, and study. You’ll be fine. Happy testing.