WHICH ONE TO TAKE?
I recommend students take a full official timed test of each kind and see which one they do better on or feel better about.
Also, remember that the PSAT is like the SAT, so if your teen did well on the PSAT, they will likely do well on the SAT.
See Below for Similarities & Differences between the ACT & SAT
Comparing the Tests
Both the ACT and SAT include three sections, which cover pretty similar ground:
Tests a student's command of correct English, such as grammar, sentence structure, and rhetorical skills like organization (where a sentence should be placed in a piece and so on).
Gives short passages and asks students questions about them.
Tests students on algebra, algebra II, trigonometry, geometry, general mathematical reasoning, and interpreting graphs and tables.
Both tests also include an "optional" essay (generally students should take this section for college admissions.)
These are the most glaring differences to consider when deciding which test to take, listed in order of importance, based on my experience.
- TIME: The ACT gives less time per question than the SAT, so that often students feel rushed and don't have time to answer every question. This may mean a lower score for your teen.
- AVAILABILITY OF PRACTICE TESTS: In preparing for both tests, practice is hugely important. It's also important to practice on official versions of each test. Many people don't realize that the mock tests created by those big impressive test prep companies like Kaplan and Princeton Review don't always do a great job mimicking the real thing. I have 32 official past practice tests for the ACT, whereas there are only 8 official SAT practice tests available anywhere (because they recently changed their test format). This may make the ACT a more attractive option because, depending on a student's motivation, they can practice almost endlessly for the ACT with me. :-)
- SCIENCE SECTION: The ACT includes a fifth Science section which the SAT does not. This section requires students to read and interpret the results of specific experiments and studies as presented in graphs, tables, charts, and and so on. It does not test on scientific knowledge. If your teen is good at this kind of thing, it could make the ACT a better option.
- ESSAY TYPE: The ACT essay is a conventional persuasive essay. Students are given a topic along with three positions on that topic and asked to choose a position and relate it to the others. The SAT essay is more unusual. It asks students to analyze an existing persuasive essay. Students are given an essay to read and asked to write another essay that explains how the first essay made its argument. In other words, you’re not asked to write a persuasive essay, but to explain the techniques someone else used to write one.
- MATH SECTION: The ACT math section is more like the kinds of problems students are used to seeing in their math classes. The ACT also could ask about a broader variety of concepts. The SAT math section is similar, but is more practically oriented. The SAT has an emphasis on applying concepts to real world problems that often involve tables and graphs. Some teens do better with the more theoretical ACT emphasis and some do better with the more practical SAT emphasis. Again, taking a practice test will help your teen find out which he or she prefers.