In one corner: the SAT. At 93, the aging dowager of college entrance exams. Opposing it: the ACT, the 60-year-old upstart, eternally hoping to dethrone its opponent.
In 2018, about 1.9 million students took the ACT and 2.1 million students took the SAT.
The ACT vs. SAT rivalry has existed ever since the ACT entered the fray in 1959. Today, most four-year colleges and universities in the U.S. will accept scores from either of the two tests as part of a student’s admission package. So the giants compete fiercely for your patronage … and your dollars.
The need to maintain relevance is keen; fewer colleges each year require either test. The SAT was revised in 2016, to eliminate the “penalty for guessing” and to more closely align itself with the Common Core. With that move, it eclipsed the ACT in total test-takers. Early in 2019, the SAT announced a change that it called an “Adversity Score” — a rating intended to reduce the disparity between scores of students from low income families and scores of students from middle class and wealthier families. But the College Board, which administers the SAT, changed its mind shortly thereafter due to blistering criticism from parents and educators.
Now the ACT is venturing into major change territory. In October, it announced that, beginning in September, 2020, students hoping to improve their overall score may retake individual sections of the five-part test, rather than retake the entire test. Under the current system, a student who aces one part but scores poorly on another might not want to jeopardize their good score by re-taking the test, hoping to raise the lowest one. The new “superscoring” system permits that student to retake only the section with the low score. The cost of re-taking a section of the test has not been set. ACT currently charges $52 for the full test, without the optional essay, and $68 if the essay is included.
The ACT will not compute or report a superscore for students who have already taken the test once. That’s left for the student — or the college — to do. But will colleges will sort out scores from sections of the exam taken at different times? Critics say no. In part, the reason more colleges no longer require either test is due to allegations that neither accurately predicts student achievement in college and both perpetrate social inequities. Others fear that the ACT’s policy change will drive students who can afford it to specialized tutors who can help them bump one single score — which will exacerbate the disparity in scores between students from different income levels.
Students taking a single section of the ACT may have another, built-in advantage, in that they only need to gear up mentally for a single test, not a three-hour barrage of tests.
The ACT simultaneously announced another major change: students who take the test on a Saturday can opt to take it online and get their results in two business days, rather than wait the usual three weeks.
The SAT does not offer the option of taking or re-taking a single section of the test, but The College Board is no doubt already working on a response to the recent moves by the ACT.
For a detailed comparison of the two tests, click here to read our blog, “ACT or SAT? Helping You to Choose.”