Students often worry about which college entrance exam to take in order to optimize their skill set and achieve the best possible score. Many hold their own opinions about which is the “easier” exam; however, comparing them by levels of difficulty is an overgeneralization. Others may believe that the best approach is to train for both and to submit the better score. These mistakes may lead students to exhaust their energy learning multiple strategies for two different exams, ultimately to be met with a mediocre score in both. There is no common formula that leads each student to testing success. Brain Boost strongly recommends selecting only one of the exams to train for. Just as preparing a shortlist of schools is a holistic process, selecting the best exam is a highly individual decision.
First, students should determine if their top choice schools prefer one exam over the other. Note that an increasing number of schools do not hold one more highly than the other. Most high schools administer a proctored exam for one. As Brain Boost suggests students practice with both to aid in their selection process, they should come in for a proctored practice with the other. Then, students may compare the two scores and act on the higher-scoring one.
There are objective differences aside from their practice scores, however, that students may factor into their decision. The main difference between the exams is in the mathematics sections. The SAT has two, while the ACT has one and a science section. The SAT calls for deep focus on a core set of concepts, like ease with both arithmetic and approximation, so not all answers are multiple choice. However, it does provide a set of formulas, while the ACT does not. The ACT science section evaluates interpretation, analysis, and problem-solving skills required of a science student while it expects no prerequisite knowledge of the specific science topic. From these main differences, general patterns can be deduced. From the math and science aspects of the exams, students who have a general working knowledge of many broad concepts and ease with core skills that can be applied to many scenarios may prefer the ACT.
Timing is one of the most common concerns shared among test takers and will likely be factored into a student’s choice of exam. The SAT allows more time for the three tests and essay than the ACT for its four tests and essay, which breaks down to approximately 1 minute and 10 seconds per question for the former, 49 seconds for the latter.
Students may also choose to factor in their experience with testing into their decision. Public schools in Connecticut administer a free and mandatory SAT for its students, leading many to practice for it anyway.
The college admissions process is competitive by nature, as students are vying with their peers for a spot in a class. However, the journey itself is highly personal, and so should the decision whether to take the ACT or SAT be. It highlights the importance of continually self-reflecting as a learner and taking pride in one’s own strengths and areas for improvement which may be different from his friend’s. Students should embrace the freedom of choice they have in shaping their own path to success.