Preparation for College Admissions Exams: Comparing the SAT and ACT and What They Measure
The ACT exam, developed and administered by ACT Inc., consists of four principal test sections: English, Math, Reading, and Science. The 215 multiple-choice items across these sections are administered over the course of four hours. Recently, ACT Inc. has also made a writing section available; this section includes one open-ended essay response which adds an additional 30 minutes of testing time. Scores for students taking the writing section are incorporated into an overall English/Writing test score. Test scores are provided for each ACT test section along with a single composite score (computed as the average across sections). The ACT score scale ranges from one to 36 with increments of one. The standard error of measurement associated with test scores range between 1.5 and two points on the individual sections, with a standard error of measurement of about one point associated with the composite score. When ACT scores are reported to students and colleges, they include both scale scores and the expression of those scores as a percentile rank relative to the national distribution of test-takers. As of 2008, the cost of taking the ACT without the writing section was $31; the cost with the writing section was $46. The mean composite score for roughly 1.4 million students taking the ACT in 2008 was 21.1.
The SAT, developed and administered by The College Board, consists of three principal test sections: Mathematics, Critical Reading1 and Writing. The full exam (in contrast to the ACT, the writing section is not optional) is administered to students across 10 testing sections that span three hours and 45 minutes and 171 unique items. The mathematics section consists of both multiple-choice and constructed-response items, the critical reading section consists solely of multiple-choice items, and the writing section consists of both multiple-choice items and one essay response. Each SAT test section is scored on a scale from 200 to 800 with increments of 10 points. The standard error of measurement associated with the Mathematics and Critical Reading sections is typically about 30 points; the standard error of measurement associated with the Writing section is about 40 points. Like the ACT, SAT scores are reported to students and colleges along with a percentile rank relative to the national distribution of test-takers. As of 2008, the cost of taking the SAT was $45. In 2008, more than 1.5 million students took the exam, and the mean scores on the Math, Critical Reading and Writing sections were 515, 502 and 494 respectively.
Reprinted with the permission of the Education Resources Information Center.
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