The SAT dominates the national discussion of standardized testing; the ACT seldom gets mentioned. However, each year, nearly the same number of students take each test. As of 2007, all four-year colleges in the U.S. accept the ACT as readily as the SAT.
After years of experience in the field, we think the ACT is a much easier to test to crack. Here’s why:
1) The ACT is far more predictable
Unlike the SAT, which swings back and forth from math to reading to English with no pattern (and throws in a useless waste of an experimental section), the ACT has four sections which are always in the same order: English, math, reading, and science.
Furthermore, there is predictability within the sections as well. For example, the categories of reading passages are always the same AND in the same order. There are always the same amount of style, strategy, punctuation, grammar, organization, and sentence structure questions in the English section. Similarly, students will always know that there are 14 pre-algebra questions on the math section, 14 plane geometry questions, 9 coordinate geometry questions, etc.
There are dozens of examples of the ACT’s predictability. (Take one of our courses to learn more!) Since students truly know what to expect on the ACT, prepping for the test is much easier. Our courses target exactly what you can expect to see. There are few surprises on the ACT. (To learn how to use the ACT’s predictability to your advantage, check out our powerful, proven products.)
2) No guessing penalty
On the SAT, you lose points for guessing, but there is no guessing penalty on the ACT. And for the English, Reading, and Science sections, there are only 4 answer choices to pick from. Those are great odds!
3) The ACT is shorter
If you aren’t crazy about spending more than three hours on a standardized test (and who is??), go for the ACT. The ACT lasts two hours, 55 minutes (plus 30 minutes with the optional writing test). The SAT lasts three hours, 45 minutes.
4) The structure of the ACT is ideal from a neuropsychology perspective
We mentioned the ACT’s predictability above. Students automatically feel more comfortable and confident knowing the order of the sections up-front and knowing exactly how many times subskills in a section will be tested. This is unlike the SAT, which throws random sections at you in no particular order. However, there is another HUGE structural perk to the ACT. On the SAT, there are 10 sections, 3 of each content area and each approximately 20-25 minutes long. Students are already thrown by the fact that they have no idea what subject is coming next since the 10 sections appear in random order. Then, as soon as a student really gets “into” a section….it’s almost over.
20 minutes is just about enough time to get focused and in a groove. On the SAT, that’s about the time when your section will be over. On the other hand, the ACT has only four mandatory sections, one per content area, and always in the same order. Students first see the English section, then math, then reading, and then science. Always. And students have enough time on each section to really get into a groove. 45 minutes for English, 60 minutes for math, and 40 minutes for reading and science. This is enough time to focus and really “get into” the material.
5) A much easier (and optional) essay
On the SAT, the essays are often philosophical in nature, asking you to expound on rather abstract topics. The optional ACT essay asks about topics relevant to a typical high school student. An example on a recent ACT: Should high schools enforce a school dress code? Are there any high school students who don’t have an opinion about that?
6) There are more strategic shortcuts for the ACT
The predictable nature of the ACT lends itself to lots of “underground” strategies that can help students nail the test even when they have no idea what’s going on. Really. More about this when you take one of our courses or buy our products.