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Is the ACT really easier?

Standardized tests. Hearing these two words will stir up a mixture of emotions in you. They will either make you cringe, sweat or have a mental breakdown. There will also be questions popping up into your mind asking, “Should I take the SAT or the ACT?” Multiple rumors have spread claiming that the ACT is in fact much more easier than the SAT. But really, is the ACT actually easier?

The ACT and the SAT are “both standardized tests used by colleges in evaluating students for college applications. They both involve reading comprehension, algebra, geometry, and an essay section,” said Ms. Magiera, Dana Hall’s Director of College Counseling. Despite these similarities, the two tests are indeed different — they have different test structure, test length, and scoring system.

For the SAT, the test includes Reading, Writing & Language, Math, and an optional essay. It was redesigned a year and a half ago to become more similar to the ACT. The ACT, on the other hand, includes English, Math, Reading, Science Reasoning, and an optional essay. In this case, the additional “Science” category in the ACT might throw some people off. Nevertheless, increasing numbers of high school students are taking it, and some find that “the questions are relatively basic, such as evaluating graphs or charts,” mentioned Ms. Magiera.

The ACT contains 215 questions, 61 more questions than the SAT. Even though it has more content to it, the test length for the ACT is five minutes shorter (without essay) than the SAT, which is definitely a downside for students who are not quick thinkers (like us). Another major difference between the two is the scoring system. The ACT is scored out of 36 points, and the SAT is scored out of 1600 points. In the ACT, the scores from different sections of the test are averaged after they’re cataloged. Contrastingly, the students can receive a scaled score from 200 and 800 points in the two major sections of the SAT.

I had a chance to talk with Ms. Magiera, and she suggested that whether one should take the ACT or the ACT simply depends on the student herself. “No research we have seen so far shows this type of students on this type of profile will do better on this test than the other one. It is always recommended to take both of them,” said Ms. Magiera. Dana offers both the PSAT and PACT for juniors to see which one is better and more comfortable for each student.

In terms of resources, Dana Hall purchases the online test prep course Prepwork, where students can prepare for either one or both using three different schedules–semester, year long, or a cram eight-week one depending on their needs. “You take a diagnostic test first, then the course assigns questions based on your particular skills. Each student can take up to three practice exams for both the PSAT and PACT for free,” Ms. Magiera points out. Another resource Dana offers is the test prep course for both the SAT and the ACT through Summit Test Prep (www.mytutor.com). Summit is a leading standardized test prep company. According to Ms. Magiera, the classes will start on Sunday, January 7th, and run concurrently every Sunday leading up until the May test for the SAT and the April test for the ACT. She highly recommends students taking the courses to learn how to take them and gain test strategies. In addition to this, teachers who teach subjects that the SAT 2 subject tests cover will help students prepare as well.

So really, when should we start preparing for the tests? As Ms. Magiera stated, winter in the junior year seems like a good time to begin, and you will likely work on this throughout spring in junior year. She highlights the importance of doing prep work that leads up to an upcoming test. Doing the test prep too early or too late will result in a position where either you’re going to forget everything by this point or simply don’t know anything. Also, there is no way for one to cram through the whole thing, “slow and steady wins the race,” she referred to Ms. Walton’s words. It is crucial for students to prepare every day for a certain amount and build up the material gradually.

Furthermore, Ms. Magiera doesn’t recommend students to prep for both tests at the same time: “They are similar tests but different; some information may overlap and be helpful for certain students, and vice versa.” After taking a test 3 times, there is a pattern that scores don’t go up. “You’ve reached the saturation point. You may also feel burned out,” she remarked. At this point, you may want to sit down, look at your scores carefully, and perhaps change to take the other test.

In all, neither the SAT nor the ACT is easier or harder than the other; they are suitable for different students. Find below a short summary of the two standardized tests to help you choose the perfect match. However, the best way to find out is by taking the mock tests and analyze your PSAT and PACT scores.

 

SAT

  • “test of reasoning and problem solving”
  • requires a higher level of critical thinking
  • has vocabulary questions
  • question style: “tricky”
  • often preferred by students who are relatively slow thinkers.
ACT

  • “test of knowledge”
  • content/curriculum-based, the material may feel more familiar
  • has a science section  
  • question style: straightforward
  • students who are strong students but relatively low testers tend to like this test better.