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Should You Take the New SAT or the ACT?

classroom sat act testWe receive inquiries all the time from students and parents alike – should I take the new SAT or the ACT? Today, we will delve into this question a bit to help you make the choice between the SAT and the ACT.

Ultimately, the choice between the SAT and the ACT is a personal choice. In our tutoring center, for students who are having difficulty making that choice for themselves, we offer a free session and consultation. In that session, we gather information from each student and aid the student in making the decision between the two tests.

There are people who will stand firmly in each camp. Some say they prefer the SAT because it is more representative of the mastery of skills needed to succeed in college. Others staunchly advocate the ACT, citing the fact that the new SAT is too new to be able to truly evaluate. The reality is that the new SAT and the ACT tests have gotten much more similar. You can take a look at the structures of each test and compare them here.

There are many components that go into this decision-making process: personal preferences, college choices, areas of comfort. Let’s take a look at some of these considerations.

  • College admissions: Most schools accept either test. But do your research. Look into those schools that you might be interested in attending, and see what their admissions requirements are. This will also help identify those schools that require an essay.
  • Ability to work in a time crunch: If you looked at our comparison between the new SAT and the ACT, you may have noticed that the ACT has significantly more questions than the new SAT (215 vs. 154), in about the same time period (2 hr 55 min vs. 3 hr). In fact the average time per question on the ACT is 49 seconds, while the average time per question on the new SAT is 1 minute 10 seconds. So if you are the kind of person who buckles under time pressure, the new SAT might be a better fit for you. Also, if you are the kind of person who would panic if you did not get to every question, the ACT might not be a good choice for you.
  • Vocabulary: While it has incorporated some modifications in this area, the new SAT still has more challenging vocabulary in the test than the ACT. If you have found that you struggle with upper-level vocabulary, you may want to take the ACT.
  • Geometry: Do you struggle with Geometry?  In the old SAT, geometry was a much bigger part of the test. Now with the new SAT, there is significantly less emphasis on geometry (it is estimated that there are at most 6 or 7 questions on Geometry on the new SAT). There are many more geometry questions on the ACT (up to a max of 27 questions on coordinate and plane geometry combined). So if you like geometry and feel that is your strong suit – go with the ACT. If you hate it – stick with the new SAT.
  • Formulas: How are you with formulas? Unlike the SAT, the ACT test does not provide you with formulas to use on the test – it’s up to you to know them on your own.
  • Calculator: Does the thought of doing math without a calculator completely scare you? Then stay clear of the new SAT, which now has a section where a calculator is not allowed.  The ACT does not have such a section, you can use a calculator in the entire section.
  • Math Grid-Ins: Are you comfortable filling in answers for the math portion of the test? The new SAT has some fill-in-the-blank grid-in math problems, while all of the math questions on the ACT are multiple choice.
  • Science: If you cringe from the thought of your science class, you may not want to take the ACT. The ACT has its own Science section, the new SAT does not. You will find some science questions in each of the SAT sections, but not to the extent that you find them on the ACT test. Specifically, you will find many questions on the ACT on experimental design – dependent and independent variables, experiments, etc.
  • Retaining Details while Reading: There seems to be a notable difference between the ACT and new SAT when it comes to the reading section. On the new SAT, questions regarding the reading passages often indicate a line number to refer in the text or they go in order. On the ACT, are often random in order and do not always give line numbers. So if you are the kind of person who struggles with retaining details while reading, this is one advantage to taking the new SAT over the ACT.
  • The Essay: If you decide to take the essay portion of either the new SAT or the ACT, it’s important that you know the differences between the two. First of all, the new SAT gives you 50 minutes to write the essay, while the ACT gives you 40 minutes. On the new SAT, you will be asked to read an passage and analyze how the author builds a persuasive argument, using evidence from the text. You are no longer asked to agree or disagree with a stance or write about a personal experience. On the ACT, you have to (1) read and analyze three different perspectives on a given issue, (2) develop your own perspective, and (3) explain the relationship between your perspective and those given.

The verdict? If you have to choose one over the other, do your research and see which is best for you. It may also be helpful to take a practice test for each one and see how you score.

Insight Tutoring Center, a local and convenient tutoring and SAT/ACT prep center, offers free consultations to help determine which test might be best for you.