SAT vs. ACT

Jacqueline Gill 19, Copy Editor

It’s not hard to imagine high school students consumed with stress over standardized testing, wondering how one three-hour test can parallel four years of effort.

Presentation is working to alleviate the craziness. This year, the testing program has changed–sophomores now take the PACT, a test that mimics the ACT, while juniors will continue to take the PSAT.

Some of the confusion that followed this shift stemmed from a general lack of knowledge about the similarities and differences between the SAT and the ACT.

Standardized testing is a factor that has traditionally held significant weight regarding a person’s likelihood of college acceptance. However, this is changing.

According to FairTest.org, there are over 990 colleges that are test-optional or test-flexible, meaning SAT or ACT scores do not play a key role in the admission process for hundreds of four-year universities.

After the recent revision of the SAT, the two tests became more closely aligned. However, there are still a few key differences that help students determine which test is right for them.

One difference is that the SAT is more reasoning-based while the ACT is more curriculum-based. The SAT was designed to test a student’s logical abilities while the ACT tests for college readiness.

In addition, while both the SAT and the ACT have optional essays, the writing segments have different focuses, according to The Princeton Review. On the SAT, the emphasis is on reading comprehension while the ACT focuses on analyzing complex topics.

In the English sections, the ACT tests grammar, punctuation and syntax while the SAT focuses more on vocabulary, according to The New York Times.

Only the ACT has a science section. Rather than testing scientific facts or general knowledge, the segment focuses on graphical interpretations and problem solving.

Practice does not make perfect, but the Presentation college counseling department agrees that having experience with both of the tests can help high schoolers focus on how to approach standardized testing preparation.

By having access to preliminary testing relating to both the SAT and the ACT, students will be better informed about which test plays to their strength. This can serve to aid their decision regarding which test to focus on.

“We are offering the PACT to sophomores because we found that more than half of our students were taking the ACT, but never had any practice with it in a testing simulation,” said Director of College Counseling MaryLynne Rodriguez.

The PACT was just developed last year, which explains why it was suddenly introduced to Presentation. However, this shift only applies to sophomores.

Juniors at Presentation will continue to take the PSAT rather than the newly minted PACT because it is the only standardized exam that allows students to qualify for a National Merit Scholarship.

For students at Presentation who were not given the option of taking the PACT, or simply want more practice, there are other ways to prepare for the ACT without paying for expensive test preparation courses. There are free, full-length practice exams on the ACT website that students can compare to their PSAT results in order to determine which test to focus on.

But at the end, not stressing out about standardized testing is half of the battle.

“Just do your best!” says Rodriguez. “Most colleges understand that testing is three-and-a-half hours on a Saturday morning, not four years at high school.”