Battle of the standardized tests: which one is right for you?


Confused junior Christian Athanasian looks at the SAT and ACT review books as he contemplates which test he wants to take. Often times, students will take diagnostic tests to determine which test is right for them.

Josh White, Photo Editor

With the many stressors associated with attending high school and getting into college come the dreaded ACT and SAT tests. Although not all colleges require one of these standardized tests, most institutions do. For students who decide to sit down for four hours on a given Saturday to take these exams, the ACT and/or SAT become a part of their high school life.

Although most students take one of these tests, some people are unaware of the differences between the two exams.  The ACT is more of a content-based test, while the SAT tests reasoning skills.

Unlike the SAT, the ACT does not have a penalty for guessing.  For each question a student gets incorrect on the SAT, he or she loses one fourth of a point.  If on the ACT the student chooses not to answer a question, they do not receive credit, but do not lose points. This seems to be an enticing selling point of the ACT.

In addition, these tests are scored on different scales. The ACT is scored out of 36, while the SAT has a maximum score of 2400. Each section on the SAT is scored from 200-800. The ACT is different because each section is scored from 1-36. The final score is then an average of the four 36 point sections.

These tests are also structured differently. The SAT is broken down into ten sections, but has fewer questions per section compared to the ACT. The ACT has five sections with more questions in each section. The ACT is broken down into four subject areas (English, reading, math, and science) while the SAT is broken down into only three areas (reading, math, and writing).  However, the ACT includes an optional writing section that is not included in the overall score.

For the SAT, the essay is required and plays an important part of the writing score. The essays themselves are also different from each other. The SAT asks questions from a wide variety of fields including literature, the arts, politics, technology, history, and current events. The ACT essay usually address social issues which are relevant to high schoolers.

While the two math sections are similar, ACT’s math portion includes Trigonometry, while the SAT’s does not.  Additionally, the math section is worth 50% of a student’s SAT score.  On the SAT, vocabulary is emphasized.  The ACT, on the other hand, emphasizes grammar and punctuation.  Although students may need to adapt to the tests’ structural differences, preparation methods can be very similar.

Many students study for these tests by taking preparatory classes, employing personal tutors, or by studying on their own.  However, some students feel that their results do not necessarily correlate with the money they spend on tutoring.

“I feel that by having a tutor didn’t necessarily improve my score, but it forced me to study and take practice tests,” said junior Max Rutman.

However, some students value prep courses and tutors not because they necessarily teach you content, but because they explain strategies which are helpful while answering the questionws.

“One of the best things I got from my prep course was that I was able to get simulated testing and real score reports to match my improvement,” said senior Sandra Riano.

“If I could do it again, I’d self-study and sign up to take proctored exams on the weekends,” added Riano.

Although some students may find it challenging to study by themselves, Schreiber provides Method Test Prep, an online prep service that tracks your progress and teaches you different strategies to take these tests.

Although the ACT and SAT may seem daunting to students who choose to take them, there are many ways to prepare for the tests.

Students are also allowed to take these exams numerous times, so if someone is having an off day and does not perform well, they can always retake it.

Tests are just one more way for colleges to find the best candidate for their schools. Although they play a role in the college process, remember that GPA, supplements, extracurricular activities, and college essays are major factors in admissions as well, and are more important than standardized testing for many colleges.