The truth is that there is no easy standardized test. They are meant to challenge students and measure your academic foundation. Each exam has its own rules for both studying and for taking the test itself and therefore requires different strategies to help gain the best score. Additionally, most universities have their own preference for which exam they want students to take – and each school has a different range they require students to meet in order to be considered eligible. If you’re not sure which exam to put your efforts toward, don’t worry – we’re here to help! Read more to learn how you can choose the right exam for your application and preparation tips to help you do your best come test day.
Preparation is Crucial
If you don’t prepare in advance, your odds of scoring high on either exam are much lower than if you put in the time to study. Both tests require a level of heavy preparation in order to know the rules, skills, and things to look for during the exam, so it is important to put the time in that is necessary to do well.
To score your best, you have to adopt a strategic mindset and develop the confidence to work through the problems you may know well while not being intimidated by questions you simply won’t know the answer to. Fortunately, standardized test-taking is a skill that you can learn and practice to help you score your best on these exams.
Preparing for either test means – at a minimum – taking simulated, timed practice exams to familiarize yourself with the timing and format. If you have the time to take practice tests for both, you can see if you prefer one and move forward from there.
Empowerly can help you assess the strength of your SAT and/or ACT results and give you a candidate competitiveness assessment for particular universities with your Empowerly Score. If you need to boost your test scores, our experienced counselors can help. You can set up a free consultation to learn how we can help you beat the test and get you on track toward your dream university.
The ACT Essay
In 2021, the SAT cut its optional essay from the exam, so only the ACT currently still has an optional writing component. (It is likely that the ACT will soon follow suit and also drop its essay component as well.)
If you are a confident writer, you might like the idea of getting a top score on the ACT optional writing test while it’s still offered. The ACT essay gives you 40 minutes to write an argument based on a prompt that is. graded separately from your ACT score. Doing well on the optional ACT writing test might give you a little boost – but it depends on which college you are applying to.
At this time, though, there are almost no schools that still require the ACT writing test. It is unclear to what extent the other schools – many of which formerly required it – even still use the ACT essay score., while some schools (like the University of California system) have announced that they will no longer consider ACT essay scores at all. In short, this can help to make a more informed decision as to which exam would suit you and your circumstances best, so make sure to take this into account when making your choice!
Know Your College’s Current Requirements
The University of California did more than drop the ACT essay in 2020 – they announced that its admissions will no longer be looking at SAT or ACT scores at all!
Indeed, there is a current trend in higher education admissions away from standardized tests. What this means for you is that the admissions departments of your colleges may have altered the amount of weight these exams carry on your overall application.
To save yourself time and effort, it’s critical to find out what each college’s current policy is on the SAT and ACT. (You obviously don’t want to waste time with these exams if they don’t count toward admissions.) Empowerly’s experienced team of college counselors can stay current and strategize your application accordingly.
Both exams test arithmetic, algebra, and trigonometry. The SAT adds data analysis, while the ACT includes Probability & Statistics.
There are two format differences in the math section in each test. The SAT requires hand-written answers for 20% of the math questions, while the ACT is all fill-in-the-bubble responses. Additionally, the ACT allows you to use a calculator, while the SAT does not.
These test differences have led many math-challenged students to choose the ACT. Certainly, if it helps your confidence in taking the test, you could choose the ACT on this basis. It is important to note that these tests are so precisely-calibrated each year that they probably won’t confer you much of an advantage either way on the actual math content, but knowing your strengths and deciding based on that factor can make a difference in your overall results.
The ACT Science Section
Many science-fearful students have also avoided the ACT because of its science section. The truth is, though, the science section really tests critical thinking skills – not science content knowledge.
Again, it if makes you feel more confident to avoid the science section on the ACT, then taking the SAT might help you mentally. But in terms of science content knowledge, it’s unlikely to have much impact on your score.
While the SAT English section is 65 minutes, the ACT only provides 35 minutes with much less time given per question.
Additionally, the SAT starts with the English section, while the ACT has it as its third section. If you’re more comfortable with beginning with reading for your exam, the SAT might be a better choice for you.
The SAT also uses historical documents with “old-fashioned” English, while the ACT uses much more common day writing. If you’re put off by Victorian novels and other old-style writing, the ACT might be a better match for you.
The Fall of the SAT and ACT
There used to be a myth that the SAT was preferred among top colleges (though admissions departments firmly deny this.) Today, it’s unclear how much either test is valued.
Recent lawsuits have confirmed what has been debated for years: that these standardized tests create a bias against racial minorities and students from lower-income backgrounds. Since 2020, admissions departments have been reducing the weight given to SAT and ACT scores, and in many cases, dropping them entirely.
While this eases some of the pressure on test-takers, it also creates a patchwork quilt of college admissions departments – each with a different policy on SAT and ACT scores.
If you remain uncertain: you can always take both tests. But it’s a very good idea to talk to knowledgeable college counselors that can help you determine what the current policy is toward the SAT and ACT at your colleges.