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ACT Or SAT? Five Tips to Pick the Right College Entrance Exam
Both the SAT and ACT are nationally respected and recognized tests. Historically, there has been a geographic divide between the two; these days, very few colleges require or prefer one test over another. So which one to take? Well, since you can’t really say one test is easier than another, it all comes down to your skills and preferences. Basically, you should opt for the one you will get the highest score on!
Here are some tips to help you make your decision:
1. Who says size doesn’t matter?
The ACT is a shorter test. The SAT takes 3 hours and 45 minutes, while the ACT takes 2 hours and 55 minutes, making the SAT about 30% longer than the ACT. Either way, you’re stuck taking a long test. If you have a ridiculously short attention span, then ACT might be right for you, but realistically, after nearly 3 hours, why sweat another 50 minutes?
2. When in doubt, guess…right?
The SAT has a guessing penalty – minus a quarter point for each incorrect answer. This is not the case with ACT. Guess! You must therefore answer all questions on the ACT, but on the SAT you must simply leave the answer blank when you cannot eliminate at least one answer choice. Does this make the SAT “harder”? Not really. With the right strategies, you can even make the SAT’s guessing penalty work to your advantage.
3. It’s a bird! It’s a plane! That’s a great score!
The SAT reports each of your three “subscores” separately, one for critical reading, writing, and math. So many colleges will combine your top three subscores from all the times you’ve taken the SAT to create a “super score.” In the past, schools would not do this with the ACT. Recently, however, many schools have also started doing ACT “superscores”.
4. What’s the difference anyway?
Both tests have grammar, reading comprehension, essay and math parts. The ACT has an extra “science” section, but don’t worry. I used quotes because it’s really just another test of your reasoning skills – not much knowledge of chemistry, physics or biology needed. Broadly speaking, the ACT tests the skills you (should have) learned in high school, while the SAT tries to gauge your innate problem-solving abilities.
For example, the ACT math section tests a few topics that aren’t usually covered until pre-calculus. While the SAT leaves out these topics, its math problems typically have more complicated setups.
The ACT essay is optional, but some colleges require it anyway. Its essay topics are always school policy issues, while SAT essays deal with more abstract moral or philosophical issues.
In the critical reading sections, the SAT vocabulary is more difficult, but the ACT tests your critical reading and analytical skills. The ACT English section gives you some long passages with grammar and critical reading questions mixed in; the SAT tests reading and grammar separately.
5. You can’t know if you like it until you try it!
How do I know which test is best for me? Try them! Take free practice tests online and see which one is right for you. Both the SAT and ACT offer questions or practice tests on their official websites.
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