When the format of the new SAT was announced some two years ago, a dramatic shift took place. Students who never considered taking the ACT flocked to this exam in record numbers. Many savvy pupils prematurely took the "old" SAT frightened of what was to come. Was this fear justified or just a knee jerk reaction? After analyzing the new exam and developing strategies to combat the new format, I am convinced the fear is totally unjustified. Both exams are difficult, but with solid preparation each can be dealt with effectively.
The two exams are actually closer in format than ever before. They both contain a reading comprehension section consisting of either four or five long passages followed by ten questions each. The major difference is the time element. A student typically can allow nine minutes per passage on the ACT and thirteen minutes per passage on the SAT. ACT success depends on speed while the SAT allows for a more relaxed pace. Each exam contains an "English" section in which questions on syntax, punctuation, grammar, and word choice dominate the exam. The SAT section has 44 questions and is part of the overall reading score, while the ACT has 75 questions and is scored independently. The SAT has two math sections, one without calculator and one with. The ACT has one long math section in which the use of a calculator is permitted.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the two exams is the Science section which is only on ACT. Not really a test of hard science, it deals mainly with interpreting data and experiments. Many strong math students do not find this section particularly challenging. Each test has an essay as its final section but neither is mandatory.
One of the major advantages of each exam is "Score Choice". The student decides if he wants to send his/her score to the colleges. This eliminates the trepidation over whether a bad test day will kill your chances for acceptance.
My best advice- Take both exams! While most students seem to score about the same on each test, probably around 25% will do significantly better on one exam than the other. In order to maximize your score, you need solid, professional preparation conducted by experts on the exam not just people who managed to get a high score.
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