So here’s the deal. There are some important differences between the SAT and the ACT:
- The ACT has a Science portion; the SAT doesn’t.
- There are a few trig questions on the ACT while the SAT only goes up to some basic Algebra II concepts.
- The ACT doesn’t have a guessing penalty, while the SAT does.
- The SAT emphasizes vocabulary more than the ACT does.
It. is. B.S.
Besides some formatting differences, many of the questions on the tests are completely interchangeable. Quick: try to guess which is an SAT question and which is an ACT question?
This isn’t to say that some students aren’t naturally better at one test or the other. That is definitely true. It’s just that the operative word here is some. And if you’re planning to prepare for either test, it’s really a matter of what you need to work on.
For instance, if your big issue is that you flat out don’t know the concepts that are tested on one of the tests (e.g., you haven’t learned trig yet), the ACT is probably a better match for your. A lot of harder questions are difficult because they test difficult concepts, but the questions aren’t too hard if you understand the concepts. Preparing for the ACT will be helpful if you focus on content.
However, if your big issue is that you have a handle on the concepts but have a terrible technique, the SAT might be a better match for you. Since the breadth of the concepts tested on the SAT is so great, it’s harder to shore up content deficiencies. But if you know the concepts for the most part and instead struggle to apply them to the test, then you’ll probably get the most bang for your buck preparing for the SAT. The questions fall apart pretty quickly if you have effective technique.
Now pay attention, because this is important: If you struggle a lot more with the content, the ACT is probably a better choice for you because technique is a little less important on SOME of the questions. If you know the concepts but have terrible technique, preparing for the SAT probably a better choice because having strong technique will be helpful on SOME of the questions. It’s a game of inches, folks.
The reason so few students have no natural inclination toward either test is that they generally have issues in both of these areas (content mastery and technique mastery), so they’re equally disadvantaged on either test, and preparing for either one is likely to be equally effective.
This means the first step toward making a decision is figuring out what your particular issues are. Our Comprehensive Skills Assessment is an excellent way to do that. Give it a try and find out. Or, if you have eight hours to kill, take both tests and see which one you prefer.
Do NOT, under any circumstances make your decision based on some ill-informed, half-baked rumor about the tests. For example…
Until next time,