College Entrance Exams–Which Test is Best for You?

Anyone who contemplates going to college has to first decide which entrance exam to take; the SAT or ACT and how to prepare. Both ACT and SAT scores are used for college admissions decisions and awarding merit-based scholarships. Colleges don’t seem to prefer one test over the other and cover basically the same topics of reading, English, math, and an optional essay, but there are significant differences. 

            The SAT is significantly longer. It has three sections (Reading, Writing & Language, and Math) with an optional essay section. The complete test (including the essay) has 154 questions and takes up to 3.5 hours. The ACT has 215 questions in four sections (English, Math, Reading, Science) and an optional essay. Thus, SAT test takers have more time per question than those who choose the ACT.  

            Is one test easier than the other?  In a word no, but the style of the tests may appeal to different students. According to Study Point, a test prep company, the SAT questions are, “evidence and context-based in an effort to focus on real-world situations and multi-step problem-solving”, whereas the ACT questions are “straightforward, (the) questions may be long but are usually less difficult to decipher.” When my advising my students at the Learning Resource Center in Mount Kisco, I suggest that they take a practice test for each test and see how they do. If there is a significant difference percentile-wise between the scores, that’s the test they should take. If not, many students just decide to take both–just in case.

            Prepping for the test can take months, or weeks, depending on the motivation and schedules of the student.  When schedules are tight, I suggest at least 8-10 sessions, which allows you 1-2 sessions per topic of study. Either way, the best way to do better on these tests is to do well in school and practice, practice, practice.