SAT or ACT...Which test is right for you?

Testing 1, 2, 3: From choosing which test is right for you to aiming for your perfect score, in this three-part series, Shipley students give the inside scoop on college admissions exams. In this week's post, Sarah Engelman '19 looks at how to decide which college admissions test is right for you.

One of the biggest questions on a student’s mind can be whether or not they should take the SAT or the ACT. In order to choose the one that is best, it is important to understand the focus of each test. The SAT includes reading comprehension, essential math skills from algebra I, algebra II, geometry, trigonometry, and statistics, as well as grammar skills that involve sentence structure and determining grammatical errors. The essay, which is optional, is about reacting to and interpreting the persuasiveness of a primary source.

Science-Minded? Think ACT

While the ACT includes grammar and reading comprehension sections, it focuses more on science than the SAT does. The test adds pre-calculus to the math section and an entire section dedicated to interpreting science labs in biology, environmental science, chemistry, physics, and astronomy. The SAT equally benefits reading, grammar skills, and math, while the ACT has a strong emphasis on interpreting scientific results.

Humanities and English-Centered? The SAT May Be for You

However, this does not mean that reading comprehension is less important on the ACT. The same foundation in reading comprehension and grammar is needed for both the SAT and the ACT. Test preparation teacher Ms. Lynne Fuller has been working in SAT and ACT preparation for seventeen years, and she says that “if you’re naturally competent in reading comprehension, you should feel comfortable getting through the reading on the ACT, but if not, consider the SAT,” because there is more time per question on the SAT. You will be allotted thirteen minutes on the SAT for every reading passage, but on the ACT that time drops to eight and a half minutes.3_9_17-Beacon-SAT

Despite this, Fuller still recommends strong humanities and English students to take the SAT, while on the other hand, she recommends the ACT to those strong in math and science. “However,” she says, “this is not a fail-safe demarcation of where people would feel better.”

Test Out The Tests

Director of College Counseling, Janet Kobosky, who has worked in this field for thirty-two years, believes that the best way to figure out which test is right for you is to “consider both, take a sample practice test of both, and make a decision based on results,” a belief which Fuller shares. There are practice tests throughout the year for juniors and seniors. Sophomores are allowed to attend the spring practice tests, after they have built up their algebra II and trigonometry backgrounds.

Fuller emphasizes that these tests might not be an accurate depiction of what your score could be in a year on a certain test. “Practice tests are just a snapshot in time,” she says. “Students are always learning new content, so which test is best can change. What works now as a sophomore could be different when junior or senior year comes.”

Make a Choice…And Stick With It

Another idea on which Fuller and Kobosky wholeheartedly agree upon is that everyone should try to focus on only the SAT or only the ACT. Fuller says, “For students who are considering both tests, wait. Wait to see what content you have. Wait to see what your course schedule looks like. Wait to see what activities you are going to be involved in. Then, plan around what test you feel like will be better for you.” She adds that if both tests are required for a potential major in college, then you should start with the SAT because there is less content to cover.

Looking Beyond Tests

There is one point to remember about both tests: they alone will not determine which colleges you will get into. Kobosky has seen the SAT change significantly five times, but says that “some things that never change are the anxiety around it and the importance it has in the admissions process.” In fact, they may be inversely related. The importance placed on the tests has become much less significant, but the fear surrounding them continues to grow.

Fuller agrees, and she believes, “Grades are like finding the right prom dress or tuxedo. Testing is like finding the right corsage or boutonniere.” The SAT and the ACT are not as important as they might seem, and a student will always end up at the college where he or she belongs.

This post originally appeared in the October 2016  issue of the Shipley Beacon.

About the Author

Sarah Engelman

Sarah Engelman is a class of 2019 Shipley Student.