There is no question that the SAT/ ACT is the most important test that a student will take during his or her career in high school. Both of these tests are important in college applications and decisions as they are both administered on a national basis. If you are deciding whether or not to use test Prep, then read my article “is test Prep. Everyone knows the basics of each of these two tests and how they differ. For anyone who does not, the SAT tests how well a student can reason and take a test, while the ACT tests what a student learns in school. There are other differences and facts that are important to know.
The SAT now takes about 4 hours with a 5 minute break every hour or so. I am not going to lie, but it is pretty bad. It takes a lot of stamina in order to take this test and do well. It really does not help that the SAT starts at 8 in the morning, so students had better be fully awake at the start. So the SAT is based on a 2400 point scale 800 points for reading, 800 for math, and 800 for writing. The nationwide average scores for each of these sections is around 500. A score of 600 per section is considered pretty good. 700 is very good and anything higher is amazing.
This test is not easy. In fact it is hard. It has the illusion of being easy but in reality it is far from it. The questions themselves are not too difficult, but they are tricky. Especially the math.The math problems really only require through some basic algebra II, but they are very easy to mess up. The test makers purposely try to make the test confusing to stump high school students. If one can figure out what the question wants, then it is definitely possible to score above a 600. Scoring higher than a 600 requires some real knowledge of math. Fortunately, even the hardest problems are not impossible, and there is always a shortcut to the answer. As a general rule of thumb, if a student is sitting crunching numbers for over a minute, then something is wrong. It is possible to solve almost all of the math problems in under a minute.
The reading is also not that hard. First off, there are about 15 vocab problems, 6 of which are actually hard. (the other 9 are words that everyone should know). The rest of the critical reading is reading passages and answering questions about them. There are long, medium and short passages and their names describe the only differences between them. I personally think that the long passages are the easiest, but that is just me. The great thing about the reading is that it is graded on an insane curve. A student can get something like 10-15 out of 60 or so questions wrong and still have a mid 600 score. It gives us hope for the future.
Lastly there is the writing section. I find this section to be the easiest on the entire test, but that is just me. The national average for the writing portion of the SAT is the lowest, below 500. The writing section only tests on grammar and proper English usage in the multiple choice. If you can write well, then this section should not be too difficult. There is also an essay at the very beginning. The SAT gives 25 minutes to write this essay on a pretty broad topic. Some people describe the topic as a “Miss America question” because a student can basically write about anything. The key to write a good essay is to take a solid stance on the issue and have a few solid examples to defend the thesis.
The ACT is the other standardized test that colleges will accept. Most colleges require either the SAT or the ACT but they claim that neither is superior to the other. So what is the difference between the SAT and the ACT? –Well for starters, the ACT is a shorter test. It is only about 3 hours 20 mins of testing, which is a bit shorter than the SAT. The downside is that each of the sections on the ACT is longer than on the SAT. There is also an additional science section on the ACT and it is based on a 36 point scale. Unfortunately, unlike the SAT there is not much of a curve on the ACT. Think of the ACT as 5 individual subject tests, while the SAT is one big test.
The math section is very long. It is 60 minutes straight to answer 60 math problems. Let me tell you, that is not fun to do. The questions themselves are not difficult, in fact out of the 60 questions, there were only a handful that I was not sure how to answer on a practice test that I took recently. Compared to the SAT the math was very straightforward, even easy. The biggest challenge in the ACT math is the short amount of time that is given to answer the questions. The other challenge is that the test takes a long time to complete, so a student needs the stamina to muscle through it.
The English section is very easy in my opinion. I think that it is easier than the writing section on the SAT because it does not present more than one concept at a time. There is a passage with something underlined every line or so and the student needs to fix the mistake with the best choice. Even more than the SAT, the ACT English is common sense, and there really should not be much of a problem with it. Just make sure to know and understand grammar, and even if you don’t a question is usually wrong simply if it “sounds” wrong. It is that easy.
The reading section is well, reading. Like the SAT reading, it is much the same, but without vocab. In fact, the ACT does not have a section dedicated to vocab at all. One needs to read the passage and then answer questions about it. It is the same concept as the SAT, but most of the passages are considered “long passages” and have about 10 questions each. Some of the passages in the SAT are only a few lines long with 2 questions, but that does not happen on the ACT. Be ready to read passages that count over 100 lines (around 750ish words) each. Other than that, it is also common sense.
The science section is something else entirely. This section is not tested on the SAT but is is pretty similar to the reading section. The entire science section only requires students to interpret graphs, charts, and conclusions. No previous scientific knowledge is needed, so it is much like another reading section with scientific jargon. The hard part about the science section is that there is only 35 minutes to read 7 passages AND answer 40 questions. You really need to work fast to get this done in time.
The writing section on the ACT is just an essay. The format is pretty much the same as on the SAT, but the readers want more specifics than the SAT. The other big difference is that on the ACT students get 30 minutes to write their essay as opposed to the SAT which only gives 25 minutes. The topics the the ACT essay covers are usually about school, or something affecting teenagers today. The questions are much more specific than on the SAT, but still broad enough to write about almost anything. I find this essay to be more difficult than the one on the SAT because a student actually needs to think about his essay before writing it and examples are more difficult to think of. Regardless, the ACT essay is definitely manageable if a student can write pretty well.
In all honesty, the hardest part about taking either the SAT or ACT is the stress and nervousness associated with it, especially the morning of the test. It prevents students from thinking properly or on the case of the SAT, figuring out exactly what the question wants. Neither test asks particularly difficult questions, but the surrounding circumstances make them seem hard. A high school student can definitely score well on either test with the knowledge that he/she already has.
For This Original Article and others like it, check out The Ultimate SAT/ACT Comparison Guide