The Act or the New SAT: Which One Should You Take?

02/08/2016 04:51 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

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With the new SAT coming out this March, a lot of students are feeling the test prep crunch even more than usual.

The College Board has made some substantial changes to the test, in the hopes that it will be a simpler, more relevant test.

That sounds great, doesn't it?

But because no one has taken a real live test, we don't know whether this theory will actually play out in practice.

So, should juniors skip the SAT and just focus on the ACT?

Yes, according to some of the top test prep tutors in the country.

They say that despite the practice tests available on the College Board website, we just don't have enough information yet to know how the scoring is going to play out.

But let's break this down so you can make the best decision for you.

First, what's the difference between the ACT and the new SAT?

The ACT is a 3.5 hour test if you decide to do the optional essay. The SAT is just under 3.5 hours, including the optional 50 minute essay.

Here's the full breakdown for the format of the two tests:

The New SAT

Reading: 52 questions, 65 minutes
Writing and Language: 44 questions, 35 minutes
Math: no calculator: 25 minutes, 20 questions; with calculator: 55 minutes, 38 questions
Optional 50 minute essay

The ACT

English: 45 minutes, 75 questions
Math: 60 minutes, 60 questions
Reading: 35 minutes, 40 questions
Science: 35 minutes, 50 questions
Optional 40 min essay
Essentially, the New SAT has been redesigned to look more like the ACT. And you now have even more time on the new SAT for each question.

The major difference between the two tests now is the scoring, which the new SAT has significantly changed.

1. The guessing penalty no longer exists on the new SAT.
2. The new SAT score is now out of a 1600 instead of a 2100.
3. The writing and reading score will be combined for a score between 200-800 points.
4. The math score will be scored between 200-800 points.
5. Your essay score will no longer impact your overall score.
6. Your essay will receive 3 different scores, ranging between 2 and 8, that grade your reading, analysis, and writing.
7. For the ACT test, the scoring is out of a 36 for each section, which is then combined into your composite score, also scored out of 36.

So, if the ACT and SAT tests are now very similar in terms of structure and content, how do you know which one to take?

The thing issue you'll want to consider is time management. The ACT was traditionally an easier test than the SAT. The hardest part was always managing the clock.

That's still the case. The average amount of time per question on the ACT is 49 seconds, whereas the average amount of time per question on the new SAT is 1 minute, 10 seconds.

Late SAT Test Results This Spring

However, the biggest drawback to taking the new SAT in March 2016 is that the test results won't come out until after the May 2016 test. And if you're aiming for entrance at a top-tier college, the spring is a critical time for standardized test taking.

Normally students rely on their March test scores to determine which areas of the test to focus on so that they can boost their scores on the May test.

But since the scores won't come out until May, you won't be able to tell which areas you need to improve on.

Conclusion: Stick with the ACT

So, my suggestion is to focus on the ACT. You won't have to wait for months to get your scores, and you'll know exactly what the test will be like ahead of time. So will all of the test prep tutors.

Helpful ACT Resources

I especially like Erica Meltzer's The Complete Guide to ACT Reading. She's brilliant at helping you figure out how to break down the time management element of the test. She also has an excellent book on SAT Grammar.

If you need more support on the science and math sections, my colleague Jim Treadway, one of NYC's top test prep tutors, recommends For Love of ACT Science and Richard Corn's Ultimate Guide to the Math ACT.

Finally, remember that it's not your test scores that will be the ultimate deciding factor in your admission to your top choice school. How much you stand out and distinguish yourself through your passion and vision and innovation -- that will always be the heart of your applications.

So, do what you have to do to produce a test score that will get you in the door, and then spend the rest of your time doing something that lights you up and makes a profound impact on your community. Now that is the real secret to college admissions.