Your Ultimate Test Guide: SAT vs. ACT


By Shumaya Islam

     As a current junior at MCSM, I am personally attempting to balance my normal school work with preparing for the upcoming standardized tests—best known as the SAT and the ACT. 

When I first started planning my study guide, all I knew was that the SAT and the ACT were required tests for most colleges around the United States. However I was surprised to realize that this was truly all that I knew.

So, if you’re now in the midst of taking classes while also planning to take the SAT or ACT, and have become utterly confused about why shortening one of these tests by a mere five minutes can make such a huge difference, believe me, you are not alone in this. 


So, what is the big deal between these two exams? 


After countless hours of online research that consisted of reading those preppy blogs aimed at future Ivy League students, comments on College Confidential from angry hormonal high school students, and even reviews from professional college admission service companies, here is the ultimate guide for taking the SAT or ACT.



● The SAT is known for testing your ability to solve real-world problems and your knowledge of real-world information.
● The ACT is known for the subject matter you learn in school, and is known as a content-based test.


Reality Check: The SAT includes trickier questions, while the ACT is known for straightforward questions. However, it is also a huge pain due to the time pressure.


Subject Content:


● If you’re the type of person who can easily focus while reading densely detailed books, articles, etc., get ready because you may be better suited for the SAT. The SAT includes more advanced passages, such as historical articles with language that can be complex. Additionally, it provides tons of informational charts,  which you have to analyze as you read.  
● Now for the ACT, the reading is pretty straightforward in contrast to the SAT.  On the other hand, the passages can be quite long. 


Reality Check: While the SAT passages can be complex, they are much shorter than the ACT.

● As for the math section, we are allowed to use calculators…but only for the hard questions. Yes, the SAT’s math questions progress from basic algebra II and trigonometry questions to more complex questions. (Yikes!)
● The ACT’s math section includes more difficult questions than the SAT.  But, here is the catch: we are allowed to use the CALCULATOR on EVERY QUESTION! 


Reality Check: If you take the SAT, you should be prepared to do quite a lot of math by hand, since there is a “no calculator” section. As for the ACT, it is best if you are good at just doing general math, considering the limited time allowed.


● The ACT includes a science section with charts and informational graphs. So, if you are a science person, I recommend you take this. 


THE ESSAYS:(Optional)

● The SAT’s essay is designed for students to write about how the author presents his or her  argument.
    ● The ACT’s essay is mainly about how students can master their argumentative writing skills.



The Possible Worst Part of the Test, aka TIMING: 

● SAT: 3 hours (without essay); 3 hours and 50 minutes (with essay).
● ACT: 2 hours and 55 minutes (only a five minutes difference, without the essay) and 3 hours and 35 minutes (with essay). 






● SAT: scores scale from 400-1600, that includes the addition of your reading/writing score (200-800) and math score( 200-800). It includes each correct answer as one point and any omitted and wrong answers with no penalty. 
● ACT: scores trend from 1-36, with a composite score of the overall average on each section. For example, since there are four sections (math, English, reading, and science) each section receives a score that ranges from 1-36, in which it is averaged with the scores from all the sections. Similarly, each answer is worth one point and there is no penalty for wrong or omitted questions.


Okay, now that you have the gist of how both of the exams work, it is up to you to decide which one you should take. Remember, it is not mandatory for you to take both exams, and if you are not certain which exam is right for you, I recommend you taking both, at least once. Here is the schedule of both of the exams for 2016-2017:





As for me, I hope that everyone who is planning to take the upcoming SAT or ACT is in good health, both mentally and physically! 


































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