Should you take the ACT or the new SAT? We used to base this question on the science section: any of our students who did well on that were advised to take the ACT. We found it more straightforward, less tricky. However, anyone who just wasn’t going to do well in science was better off with the SAT. That’s not quite true anymore, now that the SAT has mixed in science-based material into the reading section. As with ACT science, it isn’t essential to be expert in science to do well, but it helps. Most of the science material is workable if you have a basic understanding of scientific thinking, and know how to read charts and graphs. That being said, things move more quickly if you have a pretty good background in basic science.
One of the problems with the new SAT is that it is just that – new. It doesn’t matter how on-top-of-the-game a company is, everything goes through growing pains. Just ask Apple, Nasa, Ford, or the people who were part of the Manhattan project. And even if things go swimmingly on this first outing, what will be the basis for comparison this year? On the old test there were years and years of other tests to use as a baseline comparison. And what will colleges be able to glean from these new scores? We told one college counselor that we feared recommending the new SAT because college admissions people will necessarily wonder whether this new beast is a good indicator of college readiness. He agreed. With the ACT, on the other hand, everyone knows what they’re dealing with: everyone has a pretty good idea of how much faith to put into an ACT score.
Ultimately, the way to choose will be to try out practice tests of both tests. This is particularly true of the science and essay sections. If you try the ACT science section, and it looks hopeless, try the science-related parts of the SAT reading section and see if that’s any better. Also, look over the essay sections of both, since the new SAT essay has become much more complicated. Unless you find a huge difference between the tests on the other sections – which is unusual – let science the essay be your guide. All other things being equal, if you try each one and find that you’re scoring better on one, choose that one. Learning how to take a test is a skill that you’ll have to pick up no matter which standardized test you choose. But the one that seems to make the most sense to you is the one that will require the learning of fewer new skills. In general, the more comfortable you are with a test, the more points you’ll wind up with.