The SAT has long been a standard rite of passage for high school students across the country, but recently, it’s been feeling some heat from a competitor – the ACT. Over 520,000 students registered to take the October 28 ACT exam, 17 percent more than the previous year.

The ACT is not new: it’s been administered since 1959. In 2005, 1.2 million students took the test. For the current school year (2006-2007), that number is up 11%. In places that the SAT has long reigned supreme, particularly on the East and West coasts, ACT numbers are booming. In New Hampshire, registration is up by 98 percent. Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey have seen their numbers jump by two-thirds since last year. Twice as many students from New York, Connecticut, Georgia, and Florida are taking the ACT this year than did last. And California has seen a 35 percent rise.

Part of that may have to do with the difference between the two tests. About five years ago, the president of the University of California threatened to drop the SAT, if the test wasn’t adjusted to better reflect what the average high school student learns. The SAT got a major revamp last year, but still, critics say that the SAT is more of an aptitude test – examining a student’s facility for language and reasoning. The ACT, on the other hand, is more of an achievement test. Its sections – English, Math, Reading, and Science – measure what a student has learned in school, rather than their powers of deduction.

The new SAT has a required writing section, a boon for some students, and a curse for others. For the ACT, the writing portion is optional. Both tests can be taken as many times as a student wishes, but with the SAT, colleges have access to all their scores. With the ACT, students can withhold information, choosing which scores they allow a college to see.

For students, deciding which test to take can be confusing. The good news is, most colleges accept both. Have your child take a few practice exams of both the SAT and the ACT, then choose the one that plays to their strengths. The SAT/ACT competition may be bad for the testing companies, but it’s good for your child.