A Junior’s Perspective on the ACT vs. SAT

By Dana Zamat

The crisp brown and red leaves have turned to frost as Fall turned to Winter, and every junior knows what that means: taking the dreaded standardized tests. With only two choices, juniors often find themselves stressed over deciding between the SAT and ACT. The average BHHS student pays $250/hour for tutoring at Logic Prep. While this price seems exorbitant, it is what students pay to ensure a desired 32 and above on the ACT. It is no secret that the SAT and ACT are taken very seriously at Byram and the whole country. But have no fear, The Oracle is here to provide you with guidance! Just remember that this is a standardized test and nothing more. These numbers do not define who you are as  a student or a person.

Simply put, the SAT covers 3 sections: English, Reading, and Math. On the other hand, the ACT has 4 sections: English, Reading, Math, and Science. Both of these tests do include a voluntary essay afterwards, which some colleges ask for. Within the Math SAT section, there is both a without a calculator section and a with a calculator section, while the ACT is just a single section that allows for calculator use. Another major difference between the SAT and ACT is its scoring.

Both the Math and English sections are scored on a scale from 200-800. The composite score is the sum of the two section scores, with 1600 being the highest score. On the other hand, the ACT English, Math, Reading, and Science scores range on a 1-36 scale. The composite score is simply the average of the scores within these sections. The average score on an SAT nationwide, according to Prepscholar, is about 1000 while the average composite score for the ACT is about 21. But to put it in perspective, at Byram Hills the average SAT score is a 1330, while the average ACT score is a 30. Another difference is the test’s level of increasing strain: the SAT increases in difficulty, while the ACT sporadically places difficult and intermediate problems throughout the test. While the SAT is offered 7 times a year, the ACT is only provided 6.

Facts aside, having taken both tests, I can give some personal insight as to which test I personally thrived in. I noticed that when taking the SAT, I was more pressed for time. With the time restraints varying through each section, the test forced me to work very quickly through each of the sections, especially the Math without a calculator section. Additionally, I observed that many of the problems in the Math with a calculator section did not actually require a calculator. I have heard of people who have wasted their times on calculators, while they could have been focusing on the more difficult problems. Not to say that I was not pressed for time in the ACT, but I definitely felt more pressure to work quickly during the SAT.

Another observation I noticed while taking the ACT is the fact that the Science section requires no preliminary understanding in any sciences whatsoever. This section instead focuses on your ability to read and interpret scientific graphs, data, and perspectives in order to answer questions. When I first took the test, I was shocked to see that this section resembled the Reading section more and that I did not need any prior knowledge in order to answer these questions. For me, personally, I found this section the most difficult due to the added wordiness that the ACT board uses in order to confuse students taking the test. Keep in mind that you only have about 30 seconds to answer a question, so skimming is occasionally helpful in especially wordy passages.

For both the ACT and SAT, the English sections were similar. Students are asked to look into their previous English classes (thanks Mr. Hubbs!) and remember parts of speech, literary elements, and proper grammatical clauses. The difficulty of both these sections also proved to be similar.

Overall, it is up to YOU to decide what test you want to take. Both of these tests force you to critically think and pick through answers under time restraints, but both of these tests challenge you in different ways. While the ACT is more English based, in my opinion, the SAT is more revolved around Math. But this is not to say that the ACT does not test Mathematical concepts, or the SAT does not put emphasis on its English. Overall, both of these tests are demanding, but we know that you can do it, nonetheless. Remember that this test does not define you; you are worth so much more than what a standardized test tells you.