It’s a f-ACT: ACT tops SAT as superior admissions test

February 12, 2019 — by Connie Liang

In 1926, Princeton professor and former U.S. Army psychologist Carl Brigham created the Standardized Aptitude Test for the College Board, a test intended to measure intelligence for high school students. It was only in 1959 that the first ACT, devised by University of Iowa professor Everett Lindquist as a counterpart to the SAT, was administered.

Traditionally, the majority of test takers have chosen the SAT over the ACT. Fast forward to recent years, however, and this trend is reversing.

According to The New York Times, in 2012, 1,666,017 people took the ACT compared to 1,664,479 who took the SAT — the first time the ACT has seen more test takers.  In 2017, there was an even greater difference: 2.09 million students chose the ACT versus the 1.64 million who took the SAT.

More and more students are opting to take the ACT over the SAT — and with good reason.

It comes down to the classic lesser-of-two-evils scenario. If the SAT is a corn-maze, taking the SAT is like hoping to wander out of said corn-maze in the middle of the night. Blindfolded. With a broken foot.

With its convoluted phrasing of simple questions and intense reading passages that make you question whether or not you even know how to read, the SAT complicates, confuses and confounds to an unnecessary degree.

For example, the SAT has 52 questions with 65 minutes on the reading section while the ACT has 40 questions in 35 minutes. There is more time allowed per question on the SAT, but that means the problems are inherently more difficult to make up for the extra time.

On the other hand, the ACT is more straightforward with how it asks questions, as well as the concepts it looks for students to apply. This simplicity is especially evident in the ACT’s Math and Reading sections, which to me, are significantly easier and more effective at testing knowledge than the SAT’s. In fact, this was one of the deciding factors in my decision to take the ACT over the SAT.

In the process of deciding between the two, I took several diagnostic exams for both tests and also questioned a handful of peers soon discovering that they all seemed to be taking the SAT. I also heard that prestigious colleges looked more favorably upon applicants who submitted SAT scores — a common misconception among many high-schoolers.

The fact is that more top colleges accept the SAT. But that’s only because people who take the SAT tend to apply to these top colleges. In other words, when deciding between an applicant who took the SAT and one who took the ACT, admissions officers aren’t going to base their decisions on the type of test the applicant took: Both tests are considered equally acceptable.

Furthermore, notes that students tend to choose a college within 170 miles of their home. Initially, the ACT was administered mostly in the Midwest as an SAT substitute for students in a region where the older test didn’t have as much exposure as on the coasts. So considering the geographic factors, it statistically makes sense as to why the more “prestigious” coast colleges see and admit a higher percentage of SAT applicants.

In 2017, the University of Pennsylvania admitted more ACT takers than it did SAT takers.

One aspect of the ACT that is a far more significant hurdle, however, is the time crunch. With a larger question to minute ratio than the SAT, the test notoriously pushes test takers to the edge of the time limit in almost all sections. This being said, it’s doable for students to manage their time: You’re going to have to manage your time for the SAT as well and because there are a greater number of simple problems on the ACT, it shouldn’t be that hard.

Some test takers prefer the SAT over the ACT because of the ACT’s science section. In reality, the actual “science” questions focus more on graph and data interpretation rather than pure scientific knowledge. In this sense, the science section can be considered an extension of the reading section since it involves quick skimming and interpretation of information. In fact, there are only about two or three questions out of the 40 that rely purely on background knowledge.

Another reason to choose the ACT is that it is more lenient in terms of allowing test takers the option to erase their scores. If you are unsatisfied with your performance, you have the option of permanently delete it from the ACT database even after the scores come out. But the SAT allows test takers only the chance to erase only before the score comes out. That means if you are unsure about your performance on the SAT, you run the risk of erasing a score that turns out to be surprisingly good.

Of course, the ACT is by no means a perfect test. It is, after all, a standardized test, and we all know that standardized tests are among the worst things to plague this planet. However, given the inescapable necessity of taking one for college-bound students, the ACT is undeniably the better option.

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