The ACT vs the SAT: Tackling the Monster

By Hayley Siegle

Roaming the halls of the Hills, you will often hear stressful sighs, frantic chatter about upcoming exams, and grunts about the “mountains” of work that a student may have. While yes, you’ll hear these sounds emerging from freshmen, sophomores, and seniors alike, it is the juniors who claim that they have it the worst, that they are plagued by the most work and stress- so much so that the term “He11 Year” has been coined to portray the dread associated with junior year.

When asking juniors “What makes junior year so bad?” I gathered many answers: multiple APs, the beginning of the college process, more work and tests in general, along with a plethora of other reasons why these juniors feel as though they are drowning in work. One response, however, seemed to be the most common, and that in fact was the ACT/SAT.

For those who may be unfamiliar, the ACT and the SAT are two different standardized tests that students must take in their junior year or at the beginning of their senior year in high school for college admissions. Students at the Hills take these tests very seriously, often claiming that this one monster of a test will “determine their future,” though that is not likely the case.

Through conversations with other students, I have gathered that students so deeply dread taking these tests and preparing for them. But why is that?

Both of these exams are approximately three hours long, but preparing for them is even more time-consuming. Furthermore, note that while the tests require students to apply the skills they have learned in school, studying for these tests and preparing for them is not a direct component of the 11th grade curriculum. In other words, preparing for the ACT and/or SAT is in addition to whatever work students are assigned by their teachers. This factor is what often puts students over the edge, causing them to feel stressed. 11th grader Alessandra Colella explains, “I think the weekends are most difficult because that is when you have to do both school work and ACT work.” Because of the exams and assignments students are assigned by teachers during the school week, it appears that many students leave their ACT/SAT preparation for the weekends. Though that may seem like the best idea during the school week with homework and upcoming tests, it appears that many students find themselves struggling to find time on the weekend to complete both their test prep and school work. Samantha Krevolin manages her test prep a little differently; she notes, “Make sure to set aside at least half an hour to do ACT work almost every day.” This way, students are not cramming on the weekends to get everything done. Personally, I feel as though as long as I prioritize my time and make sure to stay on task and focus when I am working, the combination of test prep and school work is definitely manageable.

Another huge aspect of these standardized tests is that they often cause many students to stress—even those students who do not get worked up or nervous about other in-class exams. Students whom I spoke with felt that these exams were the “end-all-be-all” and that it was these exams that would determine their future, or where they would end up at college. Now, while yes, students take these exams for college admission, it is imperative that students realize that a whole lot more goes into the application process than this one test score. Rather, students submit large portfolios, exemplifying not only their academic achievements but who they are as an individual as well. College applications often include your resume, recommendations, and supplemental essays in addition to your grades and test scores. Therefore, students must remember that this one test score does not define them and will not solely determine their future.

One negative aspect of the ACT/SAT is that it brings out competition amongst peers. Because it is one exam, it is easy for students to exchange their scores with one another, often comparing themselves to each other and those older than them who may or may not have gotten into colleges. With this, students feel as though they have the power of the admissions officers, determining whether or not students get into specific colleges based on their scores. But as I said, the score is not solely determining whether a student gets into a school or not and this is where students must take a step back, be patient, and trust the process. Furthermore, with Naviance, a site that helps students to prepare their resumes, learn about colleges, and prepare for college admissions in general, students have the ability to gain information on the test scores and GPAs that students in the past have had that have either admitted them or denied them from a college or university. Again, students must realize that being admitted or denied from a school does not only boil down to scores, but recommendations, interviews, essays, and extracurriculars as well. As students, and even parents, we must remember that we are not the admissions officers and do not truly know for a fact what goes on behind the scenes.  

The idea of competition brings me to another point: the excessive spending on tutors and classes to prepare for these exams. Many take for granted the privilege they have to work with tutors to prepare for these exams. Tutors are extremely costly and many in this affluent area will go to all extremes to get the test scores that they believe they need by paying excessive amounts of money for tutors. This raises many questions. How much is enough? Can constant tutoring truly change students’ scores after a certain point? Is this fair for those who may not be able to afford such services? It is important to keep these questions in mind when deciding on how to prep and when getting so caught up in the false idea that these tests are life-determining. With excessive tutoring and the ability that some have to pay for certain services, the playing field is not quite level when going in to take the tests. Therefore, again, it is important to remember that these tests are not the only thing being looked at when applying to college.

Though individuals may truly make it seem that these tests are such monsters, they do have their benefits as well. I personally believe that these tests prepare students for exams such as APs, regents, finals, and even tests beyond the high school level as they provide experience for sitting for long periods of time and studying for larger exams.

Juniors, though it may seem difficult and stressful in the moment, just know that tackling these exams in addition to your school work is manageable—millions of students before us have! I am not saying it’s easy, but be patient. Remember that your score does not define you and is not the end-all-be-all in determining your future, and while easier said than done, trust the process because everything will work out in the end!