9 Things to Consider When Choosing Between the ACT and the SAT

In most high schools in the United States, juniors and seniors naturally tend towards either the ACT or the SAT, depending on the region. In the Bay Area, for instance, far more college-bound students take the SAT than the ACT, for no apparent reason besides the fact that most of their peers are taking the SAT. In Southern states, the ACT is more dominant. Region, however, should not be the determining factor in choosing between these two tests; their subject matter, style, and requirements differ in important ways that many students don’t consider.

I’ve taken both. Only my SAT score, however, was sent along with my college applications. (My ACT score was released long after my college acceptance). I originally took the SAT instead of the ACT just because everyone I knew was taking the SAT, and because the SAT was offered on a more convenient day in my schedule. Looking back, I realize this was a poor decision on my part. If I had done my research, I would have quickly realized that I as a student was far better suited to the ACT than to the SAT, and would have saved myself quite a lot of worry. Here are the things I should have considered:

1.  The ACT has a science section.

This is arguably the most famous difference between the tests. In high school, I liked reading much more than I liked science, so I originally dismissed the ACT entirely. My mistake: I didn’t realize that the ACT doesn’t actually require test-takers to know any complicated science concepts. In fact, it’s more like a reading test than a science test. As long as test-takers are able to read simple graphs and tables, they need only know some basic scientific vocabulary and concepts. Even those are often defined and explained within ACT passages themselves.

2.  The SAT tests complicated vocabulary and focuses more on reading comprehension.

Students who lack confidence in their reading comprehension skills or who do not want to deal with complicated vocabulary should strongly consider taking the ACT instead.

3.  The ACT tests more complicated math.

Conversely, students who are not comfortable with trigonometry should consider opting for the SAT.

4.  The ACT lets you skip the essay.

The SAT essay is mandatory, while the ACT essay is optional. I recommend writing the essay if you take the ACT, but in the interest of making informed choices, you should be aware that the section is not required.

5.  The SAT is longer.

If you have trouble sitting still for more than three hours, the ACT might be a better option for you.

6.  The ACT was designed as an achievement test, while the SAT was designed as a reasoning test.

In other words, material on the ACT will more closely resemble the work that most high school students do in daily classes, while the SAT will challenge them to approach familiar subjects in less conventional ways.

7.  US colleges accept both the SAT and the ACT, and treat the tests equally.

Choosing one over the other will not necessarily make your application more or less impressive to an admissions office. Take whichever test you believe suits you better.

8.  Practice tests and questions are available for both the SAT and the ACT.

These are available on the official SAT and ACT websites and in test prep books and courses. Instead of guessing which you might perform better on, you can sample each and compare your scores.

9.  If you still have trouble deciding, you have the option of taking both tests.

This will likely involve more study and more test fees, but will allow you the freedom to try both options and submit whichever test score is higher.

The choice between the ACT and the SAT offers students a valuable chance to play to their strengths, and to play down their weaker subject areas. Taking advantage of that opportunity can save time, effort, stress, and test prep money. Trust me; your future self will thank you for it.

Be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Courtney Tran is a student at UC Berkeley, studying Political Economy and Rhetoric. In high school, she was named a National Merit Finalist and National AP Scholar, and she represented her district two years in a row in Public Forum Debate at the National Forensics League National Tournament. 

5 Ways to Succeed on the ACT Science Test

The ACT Science Test is a source of anxiety for many students, and it’s easy to understand why. After all, three or four years’ worth of high school science is a lot to review! How well do you really remember that lab activity about springs from ninth grade physics? Fortunately, the test doesn’t test the content of high school science nearly as much as it tests a very narrow set of skills developed in high school math and science classes. Here are five things you need to know in order to succeed on on the ACT Science test:

1. This Is Not A (Science) Test

In fact, the ACT Science test might be more accurately described as a hybrid of a data analysis and reading comprehension test. A student’s ability to deal with graphs and tables is far more important to success on the test than her ability to label a diagram of a cell or balance a chemical equation. Any formulae needed to answer questions (and there are very few) are provided in the passage, and you won’t need to learn any complicated scientific concepts on the spot.

On the flip side, don’t skip over the data in the passage and start answering questions because you think that you already know all there is to know about acids and bases. Just like in the ACT Reading test, make sure you’re only using the information provided.

2. Manage Time Wisely

The Science test consists of 40 questions in 35 minutes, and pacing is a big issue for many students. The most efficient way to work through the test is to complete the data analysis passages first, followed by the research summaries, and leave the opposing viewpoints passage for last. You might notice that this list moves from figure-heavy to text-heavy passage types. That’s because it’s easier to pull information quickly from a table or a graph than from a chunk of text. Because all of the questions are weighted equally, starting with the quicker, figure-heavy passages makes the best use of your time.

3. Don’t Read The Passage Until You Know What You’re Reading For

Because you’re not terribly concerned with gaining a deep understanding of the scientific topic discussed by the passage (and don’t have time to, even if you wanted to), you need to use the questions to guide our use of the passage. Lots of questions will tell you exactly which data representation or experiment to look at with phrases like “According to Figure 2…”

4. Don’t Let The Jargon Get You Down

When many students skim a science passage and see something like “Helicobacter pylori,” panic sets in. So, what the heck is Helicobacter pylori? For the purposes of the ACT, it’s “the thing measured by the graph with an axis labeled ‘Helicobacter pylori,’” plus any plain-English description given by the passage (for the purposes of the real world, it’s both a bacterium found in the stomach and two decent Scrabble words). The good news is that the only things you’ll need to know about Helicobacter pylori to knock out the passage are 1) whatever the passage explicitly tells you about it and 2) whatever information the graphs and tables present about it.

5. If You’re Doing Complicated Math, You’re Doing Something Wrong

You’re not allowed to use a calculator for ACT Science, which is fine because there’s absolutely no reason to use one. The only math you’ll have to do is very simple, and the numbers will all come directly from the data provided by the passage.

With these tips you’ll be ready to rock ACT Science (even if geology isn’t your area of expertise)!

By Emma Chomin

Want the Best in ACT Prep? Now We Offer It!

ACT PrepIt was just 18 months ago when we shook up the college test prep space by announcing Veritas Prep SAT 2400. Since then, thousands of high school students and their parents have discovered what makes Veritas Prep special when it comes to tackling standardized tests: The best instructors rigorously applying a proven system for success that any student can learn.

Now, our march on the college prep space continues with the launch of Veritas Prep ACT 36. Nearly a year ago our work began, and it started with consulting with leading school districts and education leadership programs such as University of Michigan’s Graduate School of Education to design the perfect learning environment for high school students wishing to excel on the ACT. With multiple Master of Education degree holders on our development team, we identified the three things that every student needs to excel on the ACT: Skill, Strategy, and Performance.

To keep the energy level high in the classroom, our program is segmented into three sections. First, we cover the essential Skills necessary to navigate the content in every ACT question. Next, we introduce a Veritas Prep ACT 36 strategy to simplify the processing requirements on tougher test questions. Finally, students have a chance to synthesize the skills and strategies they’ve just learned on real ACT sections, which are subsequently reviewed in detail with an instructor who has scored in the 99th percentile on the real ACT.

Excelling on the ACT takes work, and you can’t work if you’re not getting enough face time with your instructor. While most leading ACT prep companies offer just 18 hours of classroom time, ACT 36 offers 36 hours of classroom time. This allows us to start at a more elementary level (ensuring that you will indeed master the basic content you need to know, but then also progress to a much more advanced level than what Kaplan, The Princeton Review, and others allow. If you really want an ACT score in the 30s, this is how you do it.

Veritas Prep ACT 36 is available as an in-person course, a live online course, and private one-on-one tutoring. Take a look at our ACT prep programs and see how our team can help you on the ACT starting today!

By Scott Shrum.