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ACT vs. SAT

By , Brooklyn, NY
Today, standardized testing is one if the main ways colleges assess students for admission. Since the competition to be accepted into a top college is bigger than ever, it is crucial that students do well on these tests and utilize any advantage they can to help achieve this goal. The two main tests that every college in America accepts and views equally are the ACT and the SAT. The ACT takes three and a half hours and consists of four tests: English, Reading, Math, and Science, plus an optional essay. The SAT takes three hours and forty-five minutes and consists of three sections: Critical Reading, Math, and Writing. Both tests are similar but have important differences.  It is more advantageous for one to take the ACT because it is more straightforward, easier to prepare for, and has structural aspects that help the test taker.
 
To start, ACT questions are more straightforward because it is a curriculum based test.   The ACT is similar to a test taken in school; it tests specific topics and information. Since these topics are clearly listed, one knows the material covered and can learn that information. ACT questions test wether or not the test taker knows a given concept and it is easy to understand what is being asked without reading the question over. On the other hand, the SAT tests the test taker's problem solving skills rather than a concrete idea. The question style is more tricky, with answer choices trying to confuse the test taker. SAT questions usually involve more than one step and part of getting the right answer involves figuring out what the question is asking first. Some may argue that the ACT is more difficult because less time is given per question. This is not a valid argument because ACT questions take a shorter amount of time to answer; the test taker does not need to spend time breaking down the question and performing many steps for the answer like he or she does on the SAT.

In addition, the ACT is also easier to prepare for. One just has to learn certain rules and concepts that are listed and can get books specifically teaching them; for the SAT, one must strengthen their skills which is a much less direct approach. Preparing for the SAT requires long term, consistent practice and the ACT requires more pinpointed studying. For example, one must read a lot of various publications to prepare for SAT vocabulary but the ACT does not test vocabulary because there is no concrete source of where to study it from. In this way, the ACT is more predictable because one can learn everything that will be on the test, while it is practically impossible to prepare for every vocabulary the SAT can test. Also, a student's regular school classes prepare them for taking the ACT. Students studying for the SAT often have to take classes outside of school specifically to improve their "SAT skills" and have to learn separately how to take the test, as if it is a completely different subject they have  never studied before. These extra classes and preparation can be costly and time consuming. Some may argue that the ACT is more difficult because it tests more advanced math topics and has a science section. In reality, the science section does not require any knowledge of science; in fact all the information is given and one is only required to be able to interpret articles, charts, and graphs. The math topics that are not on the SAT are only tested in four questions on the ACT and are all taught in regular school classes. The ACT only tests what is learned in school and the SAT tests skills that go beyond what was learned in school. 

Finally, the structure of the ACT has certain advantages. First, an ACT question only has four answer choices while an SAT question has five. Not only does one have higher odds of answering an ACT question correctly, one also has an easier and quicker time weeding through wrong answers, which are often confusing. Secondly, the SAT has a penalty for wrong answers; the ACT does not. Therefore, one can take an educated guess on the ACT if they do not know the answer; one also does not have to spend time making the decision whether he or she is confident enough with an answer choice to answer the question. Thirdly, each subject of the SAT is broken up into sections which are put at different places within the test. This makes the test confusing because the test taker has to she back and forth between reading, math, and writing. On the ACT, each subject is taken separately so one can get into the right mindset, pick up momentum, and finish each subject before thinking about the next. Lastly, the ACT has one overall score that is the average of all four subject areas. This way, if somebody is weak in one area, he or she can make up for it with his or her strength and still get a good score without anybody knowing their weakness. On the SAT, however, the scores of each subject area are looked at independently, so a strength cannot make up for a weakness. Also, the total score is the result of adding all of the scores from each subject. Therefore, doing poorly in one subject lowers the overall score more than doing so on the ACT, where the scores are averaged. For example, losing one point in reading on the SAT takes off a point from the total score, while losing one point in reading on the ACT only takes off a quarter of a point from the total score.

Overall, the ACT is a better test to take than the SAT. Taking it is just like having an achievement test in school in that it tests what is taught in school and does not require extreme preparation. This is better than a test in which taking it is a subject in itself that must be learnt. The way the ACT is set up makes it easier to succeed than the on the SAT, which tries to confuse the test taker. Since both tests are accepted as equals by every college in the country, everybody should use this to their advantage and take the ACT, a much better option than the SAT.



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