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It’s something that all high school students dread as they begin to apply for colleges…STANDARDIZED TESTING. I’ll be honest, at this point standardized tests aren’t really going to predict how you will do in college, they predict how well you can take a five-hour test. That being said, I know plenty of people who have had less than stellar test scores (myself included) who have dominated college academics at some tough schools. So if you find yourself with a lower than average score, don’t be discouraged, the test is useless anyway.

If you want to apply to a college, you are typically required to take one of two or both of the standardized tests:  the SAT or ACT. At this point, you have to pick the lesser of two evils. With that said, here is why I prefer the ACT over the SAT:

1. The ACT has a science section. By science, I don’t mean chemistry or biology. No, instead it’s another English section with a scientific twist. Instead of reading fictional passages, you will read experiment outlines and find mistakes in them. That being said, you really do not need prior knowledge in the sciences to do well in this section.

2. The ACT only has 4 sections, as opposed to the SAT which has multiple sections (around 10) and jumps around from subject to subject, the ACT only has 4 sections plus a writing section (which is optional).

This means that your brain doesn’t have to switch gears from English to math to reading to math to English to writing. Instead, you go from English to math to science to reading to writing should you choose to do so. Because of the frantic subject changing and numerous sections, the SAT can be confusing and disorienting and will also drain you more as opposed to just dominating four sections.

3. The ACT writing test is optional. I referenced it earlier, but yes, the writing portion is optional. Although many if not all colleges and universities require the writing portion, it is entirely up to you whether or not you want to take it. The SAT requires that you take writing at the very beginning of the exam, which adds an extra strain on test day.

4. The ACT will test more rigorous math concepts but the questions are generally more straightforward. This can be a plus or a minus depending on who takes it, but the ACT will test up to at least Algebra II and dip into early trigonometry. If you want a more challenging math section that doesn’t just take you into early algebra, then the ACT is the best choice. Now, while I say the ACT tests more higher-level math concepts, it is not necessarily harder. Often times, when you are taking your ACT in your junior or senior year, these are concepts that you have had recently and as such it is easier for you to recall them and utilize them on the test. Additionally, the SAT is known for its ridiculous riddle-esque math problems, whereas the ACT is way more straightforward.

5. The scores are viewed differently: numerically, the ACT sections and composite are scored out of 36, whereas the SAT scores each section out of 800. Colleges look at different things with each test. The ACT, in this regard is far more comprehensive. In college admissions, it matters how high your composite ACT score is, which means if you mess up on a section its not weighed with as heavily. When looking at the SAT from an admissions standpoint, on the other hand, each section is looked at almost equally, which can be detrimental if you get 700s in every category but pull a 400 in math.

Overall, both sets of standardized tests do not tell much about you as a college student and mainly serve to take up a Saturday morning. But, as someone who has taken both sets of tests and has performed far better on the ACT, I would recommend selecting the ACT based on the reasons presented above.



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the author

Carlton Smith is a junior at the College of William and Mary currently majoring in Government. He loves to sing and dance and is involved with one of his school's A Cappella groups known as DoubleTake. He has served as the Class of 2015's Vice President for the past three years.

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