What College Admissions Officers Look For: What Are the Differences Between the SAT and the ACT?
Since the reality is that standardized test scores are so important in the admissions process, how do you decide which test is right for you? The SAT is taken by more students on the East Coast, because that is where the College Board is located (NY and NJ). The ACT is taken by more students on the West Coast, because the administrator of the exam is located in Iowa. More and more students on both coasts are trying the other test. The SAT has historically been known as an aptitude test, whereas the ACT is more of an achievement or content-based test. An
aptitude test usually measures future potential, and the concepts being assessed are more abstract. An achievement or content-based test measures achievement in current course work and is therefore more closely aligned with the curriculum being learned. Since the introduction of the Writing section on the SAT a few years ago, the SAT is now 3 hours 45 minutes, not including administrative tasks (completing the answer sheet, breaks, etc.). The ACT is slightly shorter with the optional Writing section: 3 hours, 25 minutes, plus administrative tasks.
Much research has been conducted on these two tests. Students who are studiers and more concrete thinkers may perform better on the ACT. As research results vary, a good practice is to discuss the merits of both tests with your guidance counselor. There is no disadvantage to trying both tests one time and then deciding for yourself which one is better suited for you.
Because taking the ACT's Writing section is optional, always check with the college you are considering to see if it is required. As of this writing, many colleges do not use the writing section of the SAT or ACT in the admissions process. Some highly competitive schools review this section, though, so check the college’s Web site for exact instructions on testing. You should be aware that there is the potential for colleges to view and compare your essay portion of either test with your personal statement from the application.
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