Deciding Between the ACT and the SAT
by Shira Golub on Friday, October 11th, 2013
As seniors enter the final stages of the college process and juniors begin to dive into it, many students struggle with the choice between two different standardized tests, the SAT and the ACT.
Although both the SAT and the ACT parallel each other in their assessments of a student’s academic readiness for college, the SAT is “the nation’s most widely used college admission test,” according to the College Board. The SAT’s popularity may originate from its longer prevalence in the nation’s college process. In 1926, the first SAT was administered twenty five years after colleges started using standardized admissions tests, whereas the ACT Program didn’t begin until 1959.
According to Academic Dean Ms. Bonenfant, “the majority of Milton students take the SAT.” However, this fact does not necessarily mean that all students perform better on one test than the other. “Milton students do well on standardized tests, and the preference of one over the other is personal,” Ms. Bonenfant says.
The SAT’s popularity attracts more students because its format is more familiar. Kat Fearey (I), who has taken this test, notes that she decided to take the SATs “because it is the test I knew the most about. I didn’t really know anything about the ACTs.” Michael Davis (I) took the SAT as well and attributes his decision to the fact that his “brother took it, so it just seemed like the right thing to do.”
Some Milton students who take both tests favor the SAT over the ACT. This decision may be due to the teaching at Milton. In the Milton Math Department, students are encouraged to work with an advanced math calculator, a practice some might argue allows students to forgo necessary math skills. As these calculators are permitted on the SAT math sections, but prohibited from the ACTs, taking the SAT would require less adjustment for Milton students.
The differences between the two tests range beyond reputation and calculator usage. The SAT evaluates students on their reading comprehension, writing, and math skills, whereas the ACT adds a science section and makes the written essay optional. Although both tests last for a similar amount of time (the SAT is twenty minutes longer), the ACT has only five sections, while the SAT has ten. Ellie Minot (I) has taken both tests and believes “the major difference is timing, because on the ACT you have to go a lot faster.” Ellie is not alone in her reasoning, as there are more questions per minute on the ACT than on the SAT.
Although the timing may be a downside to the test to the ACT, some think otherwise. Elana Golub (I), who has taken both the SAT and ACT, thinks, “The questions on the ACT are a lot more straightforward and a lot less challenging, so they are easier for me to get through quickly. I enjoyed taking the ACT more than the SAT because I prefer the struggle of managing my time to the struggle of solving the answers.”
Individuals at Milton all have different thoughts about each test, and these ideas differ from student to student. At the end of the day, “Milton curriculum doesn’t teach to any test,” says Ms. Bonenfant–the school’s “emphasis, across disciplines, on critical thinking, close reading, problem-solving and well-crafted writing will serve all students well in testing situations.”
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