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SAT or ACT? Which is Right for You?

A year ago, the SAT was revamped, and now students wonder, should they take the new SAT or the ACT? Keep in mind that a 1600 on the new SAT is the same as a 36 on the ACT. While experts say that the new SAT is more straightforward and now more similar to the ACT in format and subject matter, there are still some important differences to consider before making your decision.

The new SAT returns to its original 400-1600-point scale. It has eliminated the wrong answer penalty. The SAT essay portion, like the ACT’s, is now optional. There is still no Science section, but science questions appear in each individual section of the exam.

The new SAT Reading section includes only longer passages and does not contain sentence completions, making it more like the ACT Reading section. Unlike the ACT, its questions follow the same order as information in the paragraph. While the ACT focuses more on reading comprehension, the new SAT focuses on analyzing specific concepts and under- standing how the authors construct their arguments. The new SAT Reading portion consists of 52 questions in 65 minutes, while the ACT Reading portion consists of 40 questions in 35 minutes.

The new SAT Writing section utilizes the same passage-based format as the ACT English section, and now includes more grammatical concepts such as punctuation. It is important to note that although both tests give roughly the same amount of time, the ACT asks almost twice as many questions. The SAT Writing portion consists of 44 questions in 35 minutes, and the ACT English portion consists of 75 questions in 45 minutes.

The new SAT Math section has been redesigned to be more straightforward and focuses on math taught in high school, with a heavy emphasis on algebra and data analysis. The ACT Math section includes far more geometry and trigonometry and does not provide formulas like the SAT does. The new SAT allows more time for the Math section, but the questions are much more challenging. It includes both calculator and no-calculator portions. The ACT Math section is all multiple choice and allows the use of a calculator throughout the section. The new SAT Math portion consists of 20 no calculator questions in 25 minutes plus 38 calculator questions in 55 minutes, and the ACT Math portion contains 60 questions in 60 minutes.

The Essay section is similar to the new SAT and the ACT. They are both given about the same amount of time, and they are both optional. However, according to the College Board, “you can count on seeing the same prompt no matter when you take the new SAT with Essay, but the passage will be different every time.” In the new SAT, you must evaluate an argument, whereas, in the ACT, you must come up with your own argument and support it. It is important to find out whether colleges on your list re- quire or recommend the Essay portion before preparing for the test. The new SAT allows 50 minutes to answer one prompt, while the ACT allows 40 minutes to answer one prompt.

So, which test is best for you? The SAT is still a critical thinking test, with no penalty for guessing incorrect answers. While many consider it to be the easier of the two, since they are both graded on a curve, it is important to pick the one that will give you the strongest competitive edge. If you can stay focused for longer periods of time and work at a fast pace, the ACT might be your best bet. There is more practice material available for it, and the content is presented in a consistent manner. If you are a slower test-taker, the new SAT may be a better option, as it is far less time intensive and allows more time per problem. It also emphasizes creative thinking over memorizing content.

To decide which test to take, obtain a copy of both exams and examine the rules, format, and questions in depth. One style may resonate with you over the other. Once you have decided which would be a better fit, start preparing as early as possible for the exam. Advance preparation will help you earn your best scores on either test. My Pathway to College can recommend local test prep tutors that provide diagnostic tests to help you determine which test may best suit you.


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