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Matthew Maron

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College Exam Faceoff: SAT vs. ACT

Posted: 01/19/12 01:05 PM ET

If you're a high school junior or even a sophomore, you have one very important question on your mind. You most likely already know that you're going to need to take a standardized college admission exam to, well, get into college. In the past, if you lived on either the West or East Coast, you would take the SAT. If you lived in the Midwest or South, you would usually take the ACT. However, that trend has begun to change with the ACT and SAT rising to equal popularity throughout the country (there has been a 66 percent increase of students who have taken the ACT on the East Coast). So the question arises, which one do you take?

There is no one right answer when considering which test to take. Each test is different from the other, testing different subjects, skills, and aptitude in certain areas. The SAT traditionally is more critical thinking and problem solving with fewer but trickier questions than the ACT. The ACT in contrast is more curriculum-based with more straightforward questions. There is also a difference in length, with the SAT being comprised of 10 (English, Math, Reading, Writing) sections lasting about three hours and 45 minutes while the ACT is comprised of four (English, Math, Reading, Science), lasting two hours and 55 minutes. Note the science section on the ACT. You will not be expected to know all of the science problems you will encounter. All answers can be found in the readings and by interpreting the questions carefully! The science section is more a test of endurance if anything, seeing as you will have been taking the exam for more than two hours beforehand. There is an optional writing section on the ACT, one that most colleges will want you to have taken in order for them to consider your ACT grade equivalent to an SAT score.

Each test offers a unique "Score Choice," which offers students the ability to chose their best scores and have those combined to serve as their score on their respective exam. There is a difference between the kinds of scores you can use. For the ACT, you have the ability to select the test on which you scored the best composite score -- your best score from the ACTs you have taken. In contrast, the SAT lets you take your score from each individual section and lets you combine those to create your best overall composite score. Pleases be advised that some schools may require you to send all your scores. Additionally, test prep services as well as most private tutors offer preparation for both exams, so don't fret about finding someone to help you prepare.

Ultimately, it's going to come to down to which test you believe you will do well on. Both are acceptable in terms of college acceptance, so there is nothing to worry about in that regard. Check with you guidance counselor about which test they think you should take. They have plenty of experience and expertise and are much better to listen to than your neighbor whose daughter took the SATs a couple of days ago. Everyone is different and each test suits different people. Hope this helps on your quest for success in your own Mission: Accepted journey!