ACT stands strong between flawed SATs

With the new SAT debuting in March, many juniors will be wondering which college admission exam is best for them. The new SAT will consist of more thoughtful questions that emphasize critical thinking rather than specific knowledge, similar to the ACT exam.

According to the Washington Post, these changes come largely due to the rising popularity of the ACT. The main differences between the two lie in the new SAT’s extended time allotments, with 200 minutes for 175 questions compared to the ACT’s 175 minutes for 215 questions, as well as its lack of a science section.

The new SAT will allow students more study time, but the test itself has yet to be refined by CollegeBoard.

“The online tests have several typos and design mistakes, usually on the math sections where one misplaced variable or negative sign can throw off the entire question (and thereby falsely harm a student’s score),” founder and president of the Competitive Edge tutoring company Alex Mallory said in the Huffington Post.

Mallory also stated that many of the reading questions had either obvious or ambiguous answers. Without proper test preparation materials available, the study methods will be extremely limited. CollegeBoard also has not released a scoring scale on which students can understand how their raw score fits into the 1600-point system.

“Without such a scale, it is essentially impossible to tell how hard it is to get a good score on the new SAT, and that severely diminishes the value of these practice materials,” Mallory said.

These factors make the new SAT a risk with many unknowns, and with their college futures at stake, it is a risk that many students are not willing to take.

Juniors who did well on their PSATs and have an easier fall semester will have a better shot at a good test score with the old SAT. Despite its early test dates, it still offers the best methods of study.

For those who did not fare as well on the PSAT, the decision is harder to make. Many will still want to take the old SAT, especially if they feel they could have done better on the PSAT, but the decision comes mostly to the amount of study time they have for the January SAT.

Current juniors who wish to take the old SAT will only have until January 23 to take the exam. The compressed timeline gives them only one shot at getting their ideal score. Even with the old SAT’s small window of time, many students will be drawn to its more predictable and reliable study path when compared to the new SAT.

Between constricted study time and limited test preparation materials, most juniors should look to another option.

A popular alternative is to avoid the SAT altogether with the ACT, which has the advantages of both tests. The ACT brings the old SAT’s benefits, with many resources to study and predictable test material. It provides a straightforward study method and allows more time for retakes, as results come in just two weeks.

“More students now take the ACT than the SAT, and with good reason: the ACT is and has been a reliable, predictable exam that is far more focused on actual academic merit than it is on random logical reasoning tricks and esoteric vocabulary words,” Anthony Green, an SAT and ACT tutor, said to Business Insider.

In spite of its rising prominence, some students will not choose the ACT because of the science section. While the new SAT incorporates science-based passages in the reading section, the ACT has a separate section for reading data tables and dissecting information. Some test takers struggle with this section due to its more obscure material and terminology.

In studies done by ACT that record how many students reach benchmark readiness scores for each section, the science section has the lowest percentage, with 31 percent. Compared to the 67 percent for English, 52 for Reading, and 46 for Math, the science section poses a larger risk, although extra studying can remedy that.

Time management is also key. The ACT is hard to finish in time, with an average of less than one minute per question. The new SAT tries to eliminate this problem, with 40 fewer questions than the ACT and a minute and a half per question. To compensate, practice questions released by the CollegeBoard show tougher questions. Many think this is a worthy trade-off, as the ACT’s tight time budget is difficult keep up with.

While some do feel more geared toward SAT-type questions, for many there is simply not enough studying time before January 23 to take the old SAT, and taking the new SAT feels like too much of a risk what with the lack of study materials. The ACT, however, with straightforward questions, quick results and comparatively predictable material is the most ideal option.

The question ultimately boils down to whether students are willing to brave the ACT’s science section and time shortages in place for a more reliable test score. The two SATs both have their own complications, and taking either is a gamble. Ultimately, the ACT stands above its problematic competitors and remains the optimal choice.