I can vividly remember sitting down with my No. 2 pencil frozen in my hand, thinking, “On this one day, this one test is going to determine the rest of my life.”
Back in the day, most of us took the SAT or the ACT just a single time. Lots of us were under the mistaken impression that our performance on that one three-hour test would be the arbiter of our career, of who we might marry and essentially of our future happiness. Clearly, with the wisdom of a few decades, we all know that is far from the truth.
Today there’s a host of colleges that are “test-optional” (see www.fairtest.org for an updated list) where students are not required to submit test scores. Also, now the SAT and the ACT are uniformly accepted by all colleges and universities.
In the past, the East Coast and West Coast were largely SAT-focused and the middle of the country was dominated by the ACT. Now students get to choose which test to take and therefore need to know which test is better for them. There are differences between the tests, and some teens can significantly raise their scores by making the right choice.
The ACT is better for students who read fast, process information quickly, have a strong memory.
The SAT is better for students who have a strong vocabulary, enjoy strategizing and puzzles.
ACT Reading Section has 40 questions to be completed in 35 minutes.
SAT Reading Section has 54 questions to be completed in 70 minutes.
Total questions: SAT – 140, ACT – 215.
The SAT reading sections are trickier, with more advanced vocabulary and varied lengths. The ACT passages all contain 75-100 lines (the equivalent of an SAT long passage) and are each accompanied by 10 questions.
The SAT places questions in chronological order of the passage; the ACT does not.
The ACT has a Science section that is mostly chart analysis, data interpretation and problem solving. There is no Science section on the SAT.
Both tests have a Math section. It counts for one-fourth of the total score on the ACT and one-third of the total score on the SAT.
One of the biggest differentials is the “wrong answer penalty.” There is no penalty for a wrong answer on the ACT, so students should fill in every bubble.
Students lose one-quarter point for each wrong answer on the SAT. That means that their ability and comfort with “process of elimination” will play a large role.
Oct. 17 is the 2012 PSAT/NMSQT (National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test) test date.