If you or your high school child plans to attend college, you probably have already heard about the ACT and SAT tests. Post-secondary institutions require prospective students to complete at least one of these exams, and post an acceptable score. You must determine which test to take, and identify the subjects you need to study in preparation for it.
The Scholastic Assessment Test was called the Scholastic Aptitute Test when it was created in 1926. Either way, it has always been known as the SAT. The Educational Testing Service administers the exam, which was developed by a nonprofit organization called the College Board.
The test is designed to measure whether a student has the literacy and writing skills required to be successful in college. Students have 3 hours and 45 minutes to answer the questions. With breaks, the process takes 4 hours and 30 minutes. Students earn a score between 200 and 800 points in critical reading, writing and math. Each subject features 10 sub-categories, with questions ranging from easy to difficult.
The critical-reading section requires students to complete sentences and answer questions about information contained in blocks of text. Skills measured are vocabulary, knowledge of sentence structure, and the ability to comprehend reading passages regarding various subjects.
The math portion of the SAT, also called the “quantitative” or “calculation” section, has three components that take a total of 70 minutes to complete. Most of the questions are in multiple-choice format, with some “grid-in” queries that require students to write answers inside grids on the answer sheet. The subjects covered are numbers, algebra, geometry, statistics, probability and data analysis.
The writing section consists of multiple-choice questions and a short essay. Students identify errors in sentences, and decide the best way to improve sentences and paragraphs. Grammar, word-usage, sentence structure and other skills are measured.
To take the SAT, an online reservation is required at the College Board’s website. Reservations, which must be made three weeks in advance of the test, also are accepted by telephone or mail. The test is administered seven times a year in the United States. There is a fee, though low-income students are granted exemptions. A number of organizations and companies provide books, classes, tutoring and online courses to help students prepare for the SAT.
The American College Testing (ACT) exam has been used since 1959. According to ACT Inc., which administers the test, it measures students’ educational development, as well as their ability to succeed in college English, math, reading and science courses. A score on a scale of 36 points is determined in each category by answers to multiple-choice questions. The test takes 3 hours and 25 minutes to finish.
The English section, which lasts 45 minutes, consists of 75 questions that test a student’s word-usage, punctuation and other literacy skills. The math section features 60 questions that must be answered within an hour. The subjects include algebra, geometry and trigonometry.
The ACT reading test, which must be completed in 35 minutes, covers prose, the humanities, social science and natural science. The science-reasoning section contains 40 questions with a 35-minute deadline. Students read passages regarding scientific principles, then answer questions about them. Concepts include interpretation, analysis, evaluation, reasoning and problem-solving.
An optional writing section is sometimes included in the ACT. Students have 30 minutes to write an essay on a given topic. The results are included in the English-section score.
The composite of the test scores on the various sections is computed on a scale of 36 points. Depending upon the university, a composite score between 17 and 31 is required for admission. The average student receives a score of about 21. The ACT is administered three to six times per year, with states differing in their schedules.
Choosing a Test
In the past, universities on the East and West coasts of the United States tended to require prospective students to take the SAT. In the South and Midwest, the ACT was preferred. Today, most colleges accept both tests. However, it is crucial that students ask the institutions they may wish to attend about their policies.
The ACT and SAT measure slightly different academic skills, with some some variations in subject matter. Students are advised to figure out which exam is best suited to their knowledge and test-taking skills.
In general, the ACT is considered a content-based exam, while the SAT entails more problem-solving and critical thinking. Put another way, the ACT is an achievement test and the SAT is an aptitude test.
The ACT, unlike the SAT, measures science reasoning, trigonometry and grammar. The SAT is more concerned with vocabulary, and is not solely comprised of multiple-choice questions. It also imposes a penalty for wrong answers, which is not the case with the ACT.
Universities consider numerous factors in deciding whether to admit a student. The ACT or SAT score is a major consideration. It is important for a student to determine which test to take, learn about the subjects it covers, and then take the time to study in advance of the exam date. Earning an acceptable score can make the difference between being accepted or denied at a college.