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SAT vs ACT Tests
Which to take and when to take them. Elizabeth von Nardroff explores the options
By Elizabeth von Nardroff
So you’ve decided to apply to American colleges - great! Hopefully you’ve read the article in The American’s November-December 2016 issue in which we discuss the overall application timeline. This time I’d like to discuss the two admissions tests - the SAT and the ACT - required by most schools and help you decide which might be better option for you or your student.
Year 11 to Lower 6th/Year 12:
The first thing to note is that if the college you’d like to go to requires a test (and most – but not all – do), then it will accept EITHER the ACT or the SAT. Perhaps you’ve already heard about the SAT – traditionally, it was the test most non-US applicants would take. This is no longer the case! There is absolutely no preference for one over the other, so it is up to you to take the one best suited to your needs. But then which should you take? Let’s have a closer look.
Content-wise, the tests are pretty similar – both cover Math, Reading, Grammar and optional essay writing. They do differ, however, in a few ways.
First off, while the ACT tends to be a more straightforward test (math questions in particular are less wordy than on the SAT), the ACT is a fast test – if you find you can process information quickly – this could be the test for you. If not, the SAT might be better for you. Another thing to consider – the ACT has a Science section. While it does tend to consist mostly of analyzing charts and graphs (quickly), its jargon and seemingly tricky material can be off-putting to some.
Another thing to weigh in is how calculator-dependant a student is – the SAT has a non-calculator section which means students need to use some basic maths skill they might not have used in a while, such as adding fractions. In addition, the SAT uses more advanced algebra and wordy math problems, something also to consider. A plus for some for the SAT is that it gives basic formulas (including trig) while the ACT gives none.
The Reading Section of the ACT tends to be more straight-forward than the SAT, so it might be the test for those who dislike denser (or older) texts. For example, the SAT likes to use passages from the 1800s, the styles and vocabulary of which some students may be less comfortable with.
In short, while the ACT is more straightforward, it requires greater speed. While the SAT gives more time to work through problems, it tends to require greater in depth reading capabilities. Of course these are generalizations – the best way to see which is best for you is to try a full, timed practice test of each. Whichever you feel more confident or comfortable with – that’s the test to work with.
Elizabeth von Nardroff is Head of American SAT & ACT Tuition, a London-based company specialising in US College Entrance Exams & application services. She has helped past students gain entrance to Yale, Princeton, Dartmouth, Brown, UPenn, UC Berkeley and more. Contact Elizabeth via e-mail at Elizabeth@AmericanSATtuition.com, or telephone via +44 (0)20 7692 0766. [Article first published in The American Jan 2017]