SAT vs. ACT
Which one is best for my child?
The ACT is one of the best-kept secrets on the Main Line. Here is why you should consider having your child take it in addition to or instead of the SAT:
The ACT is shorter than the SAT.
The SAT is 3 hours and 45 minutes; the ACT is 3 hours and 25 minutes.
Students can take the ACT as many times as they’d like.As long as the student does not indicate which schools she is applying to when registering for the ACT, she can take the ACT as many times as she would like and send only the highest scores to the colleges to which she is applying.
The College Board automatically sends ALL SAT test scores to the colleges. Most Main Line college counselors recommend that students take the SAT no more than two or three times. We have found that there is an enormous psychological boost that comes from knowing that the student can take the ACT as many times as she likes and that colleges will only see her highest score.
The ACT has a predictable format.
The ACT’s five sections are always in the same order: English, Math, Reading, Science and Writing (the essay). Although the SAT always starts with the essay and ends with a short writing section, the student never knows what the order of the sections will be. The student also does not know whether the experimental section, which does not get calculated into the score, will be a math, critical reading or writing section. We have found that the ACT’s predictability is especially comforting to students who suffer from test anxiety.
ACT essay prompts are easier than SAT essay prompts.
ACT prompts are on subjects of interest to high school students, such as “Should your school institute a dress code?” or “Should students be required to have a B+ G.P.A. to get a driver’s license?” SAT prompts are harder. Typical SAT questions ask students whether they agree or disagree with statements like “We live in two different worlds: an art world and a science world” or ask “Are other people necessary for self-understanding?”
The ACT does not penalize students for guessing.
Students lose a ¼ point on the SAT for answering questions incorrectly. The ACT, in contrast, does not penalize incorrect answers. In addition, because three of the four sections of the ACT have four answer choices, a student has a 25% chance of getting a question correct. (The ACT math section has five answer choices.) With five answer choices on the SAT, the student has a 20% chance of correctly answering and will be penalized by a ¼ point if she gets it wrong. As a result, the ACT may be a better test for weaker students or students who tend to run out of time when taking standardized tests.
Some colleges do not require applicants submitting the ACT to submit SAT Subject Tests.
Although the number of schools that accept the ACT (with the essay) in lieu of the SAT and SAT Subject Tests has been decreasing, there are still many colleges that still do, including Amherst, Brandeis and Penn.
Many colleges accept students with lower ACT scores than SAT scores.
It’s hard to compare average SAT and ACT scores of enrolled students at a given college because although the average SAT schools are almost always available, the average ACT scores are often not. Because colleges report information on SAT scores, but not ACT scores, to U.S. News & World Report to be included in its college ranking, some college counselors believe that there is a disparity between the SAT and ACT scores at many colleges.
Students with extended time on the ACT control how they use that time.
When a student has extended time on the ACT she is able to spend as much or as little time on each section as she likes. In other words, a student who has been granted 50% extended will have 5 hours and 45 minutes to complete the test. She will pace herself as she moves through each section. If she is weak in math, she can spend more time on that section and less on a section she is strong in. Each section of the SAT is timed so students with extended time cannot carry over extra time from one section to another.