In 2016, 3.73 million students took the ACT or SAT. Nowadays more students take the ACT than the SAT, but a lot of that is due to the fact that so many schools administer the ACT during the school day, and for free. The SAT is fighting back, with a redesigned format and free online test prep.
Many students take both tests, hoping that good scores on each will increase their appeal to colleges. But do you need to take both tests and, if not, which test should you take?
The SAT is offered by the College Entrance Examination Board. It debuted in 1926 as the Scholastic Aptitude Test, later changing its name to the Scholastic Assessment Test. Now they resist names, calling themselves simply SAT. The test, which is offered at least 6 times per calendar year, is intended to measure college readiness, independent of the high school curriculum.
The ACT (American College Test) was launched in 1959 as a rival testing system. In 2011, it surpassed the SAT in the number of students taking the test. It claims to measure general educational development and a student’s ability to complete college-level work. The test is offered six times a year. Conventional wisdom says that the SAT is designed to measure aptitude/ability while the ACT is designed to measure achievement.
The SAT costs $47.50, plus $17.00 for the optional essay. Fees for things like late registration, phone registration, changing the test date or location after registering, and extra reports mailed to colleges (the first four are free) can hike the cost to $150.00 or more. The ACT costs $50.50, plus $16.50 for the optional writing test. Similar fees can boost the cost to equally high terrain.
Since colleges today accept both tests on an equal basis and do not specify which they prefer, the decision as to which test to take is left squarely up to the student. A good approach would be to take a practice version of each, under conditions as similar to the actual test as possible. Practice tests are widely available in published study guides as well as online. After doing both and reviewing your scores, decide whether you have a definite preference. Remember: your goal is to get a higher score than the students you are competing against, so choose the test that will better help you do that.
Here’s a quick comparison of the main features.
|Test time||3 hours||2 hours 55 minutes|
|Number of questions||154||215|
|Content||3 tests||4 tests|
|Optional essay||analyze a passage||discuss the pros and cons of a controversial issue|
|Math||basic formulas provided||no formulas provided|
|Vocabulary||more emphasis||less emphasis|
|Reading section||52 questions; 65 min.||40 questions; 35 min.|
|Language section||44 questions; 35 min.||75 questions; 45 min.|
|Math section||58 questions; 80 min.||60 questions; 60 min.|
|Science reasoning||none||40 questions; 35 min.|
|Penalty for Guessing||Eliminated in 2016||Never had one|
The good thing about both tests is that you can achieve readiness and raise your scores with proper coaching. Morris Tutoring has the staff to help you do just that. Getting admitted to the college of your choice is about more than test scores, however. As one Internet blogger wrote, “Yes, these tests matter. But so, too, do your grades, activities, family, friends, and, oh yeah, your sanity!”