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    Should I Take the SAT or ACT?

    Should I Take the SAT or ACT?

    If you’re a high schooler who would like to know more about the differences between the SAT and ACT, you’ve come to the right place! One of the most significant components of your college application includes your ability to think on the spot while being accurate at the same time. Admissions officers typically measure academic skill sets based on standardized testing, because of its universal recognition. I am a sophomore who will be taking the ACT this year. However, I’ve done quite a bit of research in other areas as well. I hope this article helps!


    History of the SAT

    The Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) was created by the College Board in 1926. Serving as a way to normalize admissions procedures and emphasize the importance of higher education. By the 1950s, the SAT became increasingly popular, with over half a million students participating in the exam each year. Today, the test is available in over 120 countries and is the most prominent tests for college-ready students to take. 

    Breakdown of the SAT

    As of 2021, the SAT consists of 3 sections: Reading, Writing and Language, and Math. Please be aware that the College Board has recently removed the optional written section along with the SAT subject tests.


    The first section on the SAT is the Evidence-Based Reading section. It contains 4 single passages, 1 pair of passages, and 52 questions. Students have 65 minutes to take the Reading section. Therefore, they should complete each question in approximately 1 minute and 15 seconds. The test includes passages in social studies, fields of history, and science. Unlike the ACT, the SAT focuses on reading comprehension, a certain degree of prior knowledge, and reasoning.

    Writing and Language

    The second section on the SAT is the Writing and Language test, which includes 4 passages and 44 questions in 35 minutes. This section asks students to correct grammar/ punctuation, identify the mood and tone of a passage, analyze diction, and convey the big picture. Like the reading section, the Writing and Language section also tests individuals on vocabulary they are expected to be familiar with. 


    The third and final section of the SAT is the Math test, which is composed of 45 multiple-choice questions and 13 written response questions. Students are given a total of 80 minutes to complete this section of the exam. Individuals are tested on topics including algebra II, polynomials, data sets, graphs, geometry, etc. If you are someone who considers themself a strong math student, the SAT may be a good choice, as it weighs the subject more heavily than other standardized tests. 


    History of the ACT

    The American College Test (ACT) originated in 1959 and was introduced by professor Everett Franklin Lindquist in challenge to the SAT. Associated with the University of Iowa, Lindquist first centered his test around the Iowa Educational Development exams, which tested students on not only cognitive reasoning, but also things learned inside of school. By 1989, the “enhanced ACT” made its appearance across the nation and eventually became the version of the test we know today. 

    Breakdown of the SAT

    As of 2021, the ACT consists of 4 sections: English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science. There is additionally an optional writing test that students are able to take; however, I will not be discussing it in this article. 


    The first section of the ACT is the English section, which consists of 5 passages that have 15 questions each. Similar to the SAT Writing and Language test, the ACT English exam asks students questions about punctuation, grammar, diction, and sentence structure. Considering there are 75 questions total, you may realize that 45 minutes is not a lot of time to complete this section of the test… and that’s the catch about the ACT. In addition to asking you general questions about the topic you are being tested on, the ACT highlights your ability to answer problems quickly while getting them right, so keep that in mind. 


    The next section of the ACT is the Math section, which consists of 60 questions in 60 minutes. If you consider yourself strong in mathematics, this area of the test will be a breeze. ACT Math covers topics that have been covered in school by at least the end of everyone’s 11th grade year. Some examples include pre-algebra, elementary algebra, geometry, and trigonometry. If you’re taking the ACT, just make sure you review a few of these topics before taking the exam! 


    The third section of the ACT is the Reading Comprehension test. This test consists of 4 reading passages with about 800 words each. Similar to the SAT, the ACT Reading section has a pattern of subjects in each passage that they talk about each year: prose-fiction, social science, humanities, and natural science. The test’s layout is really similar to that of the SAT; however, it requires you to skim and grasp the text much faster with 40 questions in only 35 minutes. 


    Unlike the SAT, the ACT has a Science component of the exam that requires students to interpret data in the form of tables, graphs, and charts. Just like the Reading section, the Science section also contains 40 questions in 35 minutes. There’s a catch as to how many passages there are, however. Sometimes the Science section will have only 6 passages while at other times it has 7. Test-takers aren’t able to tell what the number of passages is beforehand, so make sure you’re prepared for both! 

    Final Comments

    In conclusion, it is important to recognize that the SAT tests you more on your deep thinking and analysis while the ACT is essentially racing the timer. Another key difference between the two tests is that the ACT also offers a science and writing section. Overall, be sure to know your own strengths and weaknesses before deciding which test to take, and remember to stay confident as well!