The ACT is the new SAT

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by Mike Li, Head of US Admissions, ITS Education Asia


For students and parents, there has always been confusion over which US university entrance test is more suitable, the SAT or the ACT. However, with the changes to the new SAT, we find that the exams are now strikingly similar in almost all aspects – Reading, Writing, Math, and Science. Whereas SAT probably had more recognition internationally for a long time, we’d say that the two are now inseparable.

In both tests, Reading is comprised of a predictable blend of Narrative, Social Science, Natural Science, and Argumentative passages. Writing is a combination of Grammar and Structure. Math goes up to, but barely beyond, quadratic equations. And Science questions will test a student’s ability to use charts, graphs, and diagrams to make logical conclusions.

There are minor differences. For example in the Writing section the ACT tilts more towards Grammar whereas the SAT will tilt towards Paragraph Structure. In the Math section, the most challenging ACT questions will include logarithms and geometric series, whereas the SAT will challenge students more with polynomials. But these questions comprise less than 10% of the each section.

The ACT also has a full Science section whereas the SAT scatters science questions throughout the exam. The Essay is also distinctly different for the SAT and ACT, but considering how insignificant the Essay Score is compared to a student’s university application essays, most students only need a few hours of review to master the essay formats.

The major difference for students with ACT and SAT is timing. It is almost universally agreed that the ACT has easier questions, but each ACT section gives students considerably less time per question than the corresponding SAT section. This distinction between the two tests becomes one of the major deciding factors in which test is best for your student: students who tend to be more thorough/diligent/perfectionists will find the SAT easier to conquer while students who tend to be more intuitive/fast-paced workers tend to succeed at ACT.

By and large however, we find that most students can prepare for ACT and SAT in parallel, and then take either or both when the time is right. So those who are worried about SAT vs. ACT can relax! Performance will likely be similar for anyone taking both and you can always do mock tests for each and compare the results if you want to be certain. Choice tends ultimately to be a question of unquantifiable personal preference.

Mike heads up all ITS Education Asia preparation services for applications and entrance to US universities and colleges from course choice to test prep to essay writing. He is helped by a team of expert teachers and counsellors with years of experience between them.

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