Why the ACT is just as important as the SAT


ACT vs SAT balance

Image: Kittisak / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

By Kate Cryan

“There are several compelling reasons why students SHOULD TAKE BOTH tests.” 

So said Dr. Yo in this 2008 post. You could say he was a good five years ahead of the curve: last year, the number of students taking the ACT was, for the first time, slightly higher than the number taking SAT, and 50% higher than the number taking ACT ten years ago.

Why the sudden preference for ACT?
It’s not sudden, and it’s not a preference, because SAT popularity hasn’t waned. The number of ACT takers has steadily increased each year until it finally surpassed the number of those taking the SAT.

High school students are, in the words of Janet Rapelye, dean of admissions at Princeton, “trying to make sure they’ve done everything they can” and are taking both tests. Almost 8,000 of this year’s 26,000 applicants to Princeton submitted both SAT and ACT scores.

So why should I take both tests?
Dr Yo says: “The tests are different enough such that most students will do better on one of them, but there’s no way of knowing which one if they don’t take both.”

In other words, if you only take the SAT, you’ll never know if you could have greatly boosted your chances of getting into your dream college by taking the ACT and getting a far better score.

But won’t taking both tests mean a lot more work?
No. There’s about an 80% overlap in material, so you can easily prepare for both tests simultaneously. We can help. 🙂

If there’s an 80% overlap, why could one test give me a better score than the other?
The different tests play to different strengths. If, for example, you’re good with vocabulary, you might do better on the SAT. There’s no vocab section on the ACT.

If you’re more math-minded, though, perhaps the ACT is more your style. In addition to Algebra I & II and Geometry, it tests your knowledge of basic Trigonometry.

But I won’t study Trigonometry until my senior year, and I’m trying to get all my testing done in my junior year!
Not a problem. Sign up with CPE for the ACT prep class (our next one starts on January 5th) and Dr. Yo will make sure you know everything you need to know in time for the test. (Trust us: it takes less time to learn that stuff than you’d think!)

OK. But what about SAT subject tests? Don’t some colleges still require those?
Dr. Yo says: “Taking the ACT can be a one-stop-shop; that is, since it comprises five sub-tests, each of which generates its own score, ONE ACT test can “count” as both the SAT and several SAT Subject Tests. Many colleges still require students to take the SAT AND SAT Subject Tests OR the ACT.”

If I take ACT and SAT, do I need to submit the scores from both?
No! You only need to release the scores from either ACT or SAT. And if you take the tests multiple times, in most cases you need only to tell colleges about the one or two exams you did best on, although there are a few exceptions: some colleges require all scores to be submitted. (See this collegeboard.com page to check out individual colleges’ reporting requirements. Also, do read this previous CPE blog post about the truths and myths of test score reporting.)

How do the actual tests compare with each other?
The Princeton Review reports:

“ACT questions are often easier to understand on a first read. On the SAT, you may need to spend time figuring out what you’re being asked before you can start solving the problem.”

Other differences:
ACT has a Science section; the SAT doesn’t.
SAT is broken up into more sections.
ACT Writing Test is optional (although many colleges require it anyway.)
The ACT exam will not penalize you for a wrong answer, unlike the SAT.

OK, you’ve convinced me. 🙂 I’ll do both.
Excellent! Because there’s one final advantage: there’s no substitute for experience, i.e., taking high-stakes tests under pressurized conditions; each time a student sits for 3.5 hrs (the approximate length of each test), s/he is acquiring invaluable experience for the next standardized test.

Practice makes progress, right?

CPE offers cost-effective combo-classes to prepare students for both tests throughout their junior year.  Check out our Classes page for all the details!


About CollegePrepExpress

The primary purpose of CollegePrepExpress, LLC is to help students get into their top secondary schools, colleges, and graduate schools and to reduce stress surrounding the entire admissions process.

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