Twenty years ago, the ACT had just a small share of the college admissions testing market. But times have changed: in 2013, the ACT eclipsed the SAT in the number of students who took the test. Now students have a legitimate choice; that’s the good news. The bad news is that many students feel they have to spend the time and money to take both tests.
Is there a better way to know which test would fit a particular student? Absolutely, and with a bit of thought and some effort students can assess which test fits them best. First of all, students can go to their guidance offices and get a copy of a test booklet for both SAT and ACT with test information, complete practice test with answer key, and writing prompt with sample essays. They can take both practice tests under self-timed conditions. The results will be informative, one way or the other.
While the SAT is a more analytical test (a “new SAT” is currently in process by the College Board and will be released in 2015), the ACT is more straightforward (“what do you know?”), based on subject material taught in school: math, reading, science, English, and (optional) writing. (While the writing is technically optional, most of the more selective colleges require the writing section.) The catch on the ACT is that it is a test of speed. In English, for example, there are 75 questions to be done in 45 minutes, in math there are 60 minutes to do 60 questions and in science there are 40 questions to be done in 35 minutes. Students who tend to become anxious when time is tight or make careless errors in an effort to move quickly may be more comfortable on the SAT.
Another note: the science subtest on the ACT is notoriously difficult. It uses graphs and tables from which students must draw conclusions and project results. Times is short and the analysis can be challenging.