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Zheng: ACT vs SAT

Since starting high school, I’ve been curious about which standard test I should take: the ACT or the SAT? A generation ago, most students that lived in the Midwest took the ACT, while most students who live on the coasts took the SAT. But now that is not the case. I decided to do some research to see which test is really the best choice and to help other high school students who have the same question I do.

Emily Zheng

What does ACT and SAT stand for? ACT stands for American College Testing, produced by ACT, Inc. It was first administered in November 1959 as a competitor to the College Board’s Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT I), which was first introduced in 1926.

What is different about the ACT? The ACT has four multiple-choice subject tests covering English, Math, Reading, and Science. It lasts two hours and 55 minutes. The ACT also includes an optional 30-minute writing test. Your subject test scores are only determined by your correct responses. The four areas are then averaged together to come up with your overall, or composite, score. The full score is 36.

What is different about the SAT? The SAT begins with a required 25-minute essay. This is the start of the Writing section, which you’ll complete in addition to the Critical Reading and Math sections. The SAT lasts 3 hours and 45 minutes. The SAT has multiple-choice areas and also “grid-in” problems in the Math section. The SAT has a slight penalty for wrong answers on the multiple choice questions (but not on the student-produced ones). The full score is 2400.

The ACT vs. The SAT The SAT has fewer questions — 140 compared to the 215 on the ACT. The SAT also focuses heavily on vocabulary, while the ACT focuses on grammar and punctuation. The ACT requires you to know a little trigonometry, in addition to algebra and geometry. However, the ACT Math section is not necessarily harder, since many students find the questions to be more straightforward than those on the SAT. Overall, the ACT is a content-based test, while the SAT tests critical thinking and problem solving.

Which one should I take? You probably want to determine which test format is better suited to your strengths. If the colleges you’re interested in accept scores from either test, you may want to consider taking both admissions tests. Each one tests you in a different way, so you might opt to take both to see which one you perform better on. It’s best to first take the PLAN, which is similar to a practice ACT, and the PSAT, which is similar to a practice SAT, to see which test best fits you.

What high school graduates say… I asked a few friends and family what they took during high school. My brother Jimmy only took the SAT when he was fifteen and was accepted to USC after his Junior year. He will be starting his PhD studies in August. However, Ray Chao, a recent graduate from Arcadia High School, currently attending Princeton University, took the ACT only. On the other hand, my friend Andy, a recent graduate from UPenn and also an Arcadia High School alumni, took both the ACT and the SAT. He will start medical school in August. Therefore, the test you take doesn’t determine where you go for college. Take the test that best fits you, and good luck on college apps!

— By Emily Zheng

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