There are approximately 2,500 degree-granting four-year colleges in the U.S., and more than 1,700 of them require the submission of an ACT or SAT test score for admission. So it’s a pretty safe bet you’re going to have to spend at least one Saturday morning taking a marathon exam and submitting your score to some, if not all, of the colleges on your list.
Why are the tests required?
Colleges require standardized college admission entrance tests to help predict applicants’ success in the first year of college. A standardized test provides a national assessment tool that is not influenced by differences in high school curriculums and grading standards across the nation. Most colleges don’t care which test you take, despite the fact that the SAT and ACT are fundamentally different assessments.
For decades, students on the East and West Coasts took the SAT in overwhelming numbers while students in the Midwest and South took the ACT. That pattern has changed recently, and students on the coasts are taking the ACT in increasing numbers.
How are the SAT and ACT different?
Exam length: The SAT is 3 hours and 45 minutes with a mandatory writing section. The ACT is 3 hours and 25 minutes with an optional essay section.
Science: The ACT includes a science section. There is no science section on the SAT.
Score choice: The ACT offers “score choice,” meaning no matter how many times you take it, you can decide which test score you want to send to colleges. The SAT will offer a score choice option beginning in the spring of 2009.
Subjects tested: The SAT tests a student’s problem-solving ability independent of high school curricula. The ACT is a subject knowledge test with questions based on what you
should learn in high school. It is not uncommon for students to perform better on one test than the other.
Point deductions: One important difference between the SAT and the ACT is the deduction of a quarter of a point for incorrect answers on the SAT (except for grid-in math problems). The ACT does not penalize for incorrect answers, so its format encourages educated guessing.
The no-test option
Your standardized test decision isn’t limited to ACT vs. SAT. There are now more than 760 four-year colleges that are test optional, with more colleges and universities joining the list every year. If you want to find out which colleges are test optional, go to FairTest.org.
Try not to get caught up in the frenzy over test scores. Remember that the standardized tests are just one piece of the college admission puzzle. Who you are and what you’ve accomplished in life far outweigh how many bubbles you fill in correctly on a Saturday morning in May.
Want a comparison of the ACT and the SAT? See the next page for a chart.