Deciding which test to focus on is one of the most important decisions a college-bound student will make. At Test Geek, we have a very simple philosophy: focus on the test the student is naturally best at. In the past, colleges in certain areas of the country preferred one test over the other. That's no longer true. Just about every college accepts either test, and they simply use a conversion chart to compare scores. The goal for every student should be to earn the highest percentile score possible, regardless of which test that happens on.
The number one way to answer this question is to take our free SAT vs. ACT Diagnostic Test. This short quiz helps us determine where a student's natural strengths lie, and it provides valuable information that can save you time and money as you prepare for the test. Whether you end up doing prep with us or not, contact us and ask for the diagnostic quiz. We'll be glad to send it to you, and we'll even help you interpret the results -- for free!
In general, both tests cover much of the same content. In fact, most students score fairly similarly on both exams. However, there are some important differences, and these differences can be significant for some students. Differences like the number of questions per section aren't really important. Instead, here are four areas where we think students might want to pay attention when deciding between tests:
1. The ACT is more of a time crunch
The reading and science portions are particularly time-constrained for most students. Depending on individual strengths, any of the four ACT sections can be a real time crunch. Consider the reading section: students have only 35 minutes to read four passages and answer 40 questions! That's less than a minute per question, and that doesn't include reading the passages. We certainly have some strategies to help students with time limits, and good test prep can overcome this obstacle, but there's no getting around the fact that the SAT offers a slower pace.
2. The ACT tests science, but the SAT does not
To be fair, the ACT Science Test doesn't actually require outside scientific knowledge. It simply asks students to read various passages and experiments and answer questions that require them to use scientific reasoning and skills. They aren't asked about stand-alone scientific topics, so being good at science in school isn't always very correlated with being good at this section. However, the SAT doesn't cover science at all. For somet students, this is important. For most, it isn't.
3. The essays are different
Both essays are now optional, but they take a different approach. The ACT asks students to choose their own argument when presented with a prompt. The SAT asks students to analyze a given argument. Neither of these approaches are inherently easier or harder. Some students prefer one over the other, but it isn't likely that this difference produces significant differences in test scores.
4. The new SAT has some math problems that don't allow calculators
The entire ACT Math Test allows calculator use. The new SAT has two math sections -- one that allows calculators and another that does not. The section without calculators requires students to use their ability to simplify, manipulate powers and do basic math in their head (or on paper) to answer the questions. Good test prep will prepare students for this, but some students may wish to consider this when picking between tests.
We would like to caution students and parents to not get too set on one test or the other until you have good reason to do so, such as having taken our diagnostic quiz. Sometimes students are surprised when they find out which test they are better at. Reading the list above often makes students think they will be better at one test or the other, but actual results don't always match those conclusions.
We really do love talking about this stuff, so don't hesitate to give us a call. We can send you the diagnostic quiz for free, and you can gain some real insight into which test is a better use of your time and resources.
We'd love to send you our diagnostic quiz that will help you decide which test your student should focus on. We'll even help you analyze the results for free!