Choose Wisely! A presentation by Everitt Clark

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True or False?

  • Some colleges (mainly on the east and west coasts) prefer the SAT, while others (in the midwest and south) prefer the ACT.
  • False. Both tests are accepted at all four-year colleges in the United States that require standardized test results.
  • The ACT is more “knowledge-based” than the SAT.
  • Mostly false. The ACT and the SAT have changed over the years to become more like each other in this respect.
  • The ACT is easier than the SAT.
  • False. Although ACT questions tend to be a little more straightforward than SAT questions, the time pressure on the ACT is significantly more severe.
  • The “new” SAT is easier than the “old” SAT.
  • False. The Revised SAT is harder than the former SAT in some ways and easier in others.
  • You can improve your score on both the SAT and the ACT if you prepare yourself for the tests.
  • True. reports that studying and/or tutoring often does result in significant score increases.

What do these acronyms mean?

  • “SAT” stands for:
    • Scholastic Aptitude Test
    • Scholastic Assessment Test
    • Scholastic Achievement Test
    • SAT
  • “ACT” stands for:
    • American College Test
    • Another Crappy Test
    • ¡Ay, caramba! Test!
    • ACT
  • “SAT” and “ACT” don't stand for anything because it's not particularly clear what the tests measure – except how good you are at taking them!

A Brief History of the SAT (in multiple choice format)

  • James Conant, the president of Harvard, saw that only rich, well-connected preppies got into good colleges. He was worried that underprivileged but smart students, rejected by schools such as Harvard, would become communists! Conant thought the SAT could help identify those kids. His former assistant started ETS, the company that for many years wrote the SAT.
  • Which of the following played a role in the development of the SAT?
    • Eugenics
    • Communism
    • Ralph Nader
    • A sixth-grader in Florida
    • All of the above
  • Ralph Nader and Allen Nairn published The Reign of ETS, which revealed that the SAT privileged wealthy white people – precisely the opposite of what it was supposed to do!
  • Carl Brigham developed the Scholastic Aptitude Test in the 1920s. He was a proponent of eugenics – the belief that genetically superior people should pass on their genes to improve the “race”. He thought the SAT would help to demonstrate that aptitude/intelligence was a genetic trait. Later on, he disavowed his early racism, said that SAT didn't really measure intelligence, and tried to stop it from being used for college admissions... but it was too late.
  • Richard Atkinson, the president of the University of California, visited his sixth-grade granddaughter's class and discovered that the teacher was already drilling them on SAT questions. He thought this was preposterous, and threatened to stop using the SAT in his school system. In 2005, ETS changed the SAT so that the University of California would keep using it.

An Even Briefer History of the ACT (in the form of an analogy)

  • SAT is to ACT as...
  • American College Testing was founded in 1959 by E. F. Lindquist to compete with ETS
  • Initially, the ACT contrasted with the SAT:
    • The ACT was popular in the midwest, the SAT on the coasts
    • The ACT was chiefly used by public universities, the SAT by private ones
    • The ACT claimed to measure mastery of the high school curriculum, the SAT to test aptitude regardless of knowledge
  • But the ACT has become more like the SAT
    • In 1989, the “Enhanced” ACT was introduced: the Social Studies test became a Reading test, and the Science test became a “Science” test
    • By 2006 every college accepted the ACT, and in 2012 the ACT passed the SAT to become the most popular college admissions test in America.
  • Coke
  • is to
  • Pepsi

The Times They Are A-Changin'

  • The Revised SAT
  • The ACT
  • Marten Roorda head honcho at ACT, Inc., has a very successful test on his hands.
  • David Coleman, the President of The College Board, has been a critic of the SAT for a long time.
  • The New SAT touched down (or crash landed) in March 2016.
  • Coleman was the main designer of the Common Core, so the Resdisnged SAT is more in line with those standards. Also, it is more like the ACT.
  • The ACT changed in September 2015 in a few fairly minor ways.
  • There were minor changes to the Math, Reading, and Science sections. The optional Essay changed to more closely resemble the Revised SAT Essay.

What's up with the Redesigned SAT?

  • Instead of the Former SAT's three subject areas – Critical Reading, Writing, and Math – there are now be only two: “Math” and ”Evidence-based Reading and Writing” (i.e. the Reading and Writing subjects smushed together).
  • The maximum SAT score is again 1600 instead of 2400 (ask your parents).
  • The essay is now optional. Some colleges will require it. (Like the ACT)
  • 4 answer choices instead of 5! (Like the ACT)
  • No guessing penalty! (Like the ACT)
  • Subscores on every section! (Like the ACT)
  • Math: Now with more graphs, word problems, and trigonometry! (Like the ACT)
  • Writing (grammar): Now with passages instead of isolated sentences! (Like the ACT)
  • Reading: not that many hard vocabulary words! (Like the ACT)
  • Revised motto: The Redesigned SAT™: It's the ACT™!
  • An optional computer-based version of the test will be available… someday, maybe?

Redesigned SAT vs. ACT: Structure

  • 5 sections (3 hrs. 50 min.)
    • 1 Reading (65 min)
      • 52 questions. 5 passages w/ 1 paired passage set
    • 1 Writing and Language (35 min)
      • 44 questions. 4 passages
    • 1 Math – NO calculator (25 min)
    • 1 Math – YES calculator (55 min)
      • 30 multiple choice, 8 grid-in questions
    • 1 Essay (50 min)
      • Technically optional
  • Redesigned SAT
  • ACT
  • 5 sections (3 hrs. 35 min.)
    • 1 English (45 min)
        • 75 questions. 5 passages
    • 1 Math (60 min)
        • 60 questions, all multiple choice
    • 1 Reading (35 min)
        • 40 questions. 4 passages w/ 1 paired passage set
    • 1 Science (35 min)
        • 40 questions. 6 or 7 passages. THERE IS NO SAT EQUIVALENT.
    • 1 Essay (40 min)
        • Technically optional

Redesigned SAT vs. ACT: Scoring

  • Score Range: 400-1600
        • 200-800 each for Math and Evidence-based Reading and Writing. Scores added together
        • Subscores that no one cares about
        • Reading and Writing each worth ¼ of your score, Math worth ½
        • Graded on a curve
    • Most colleges “superscore” the SAT (use best section scores from all test dates)
  • Redesigned SAT
  • ACT
  • Score Range: 1-36
        • 1-36 on each section; composite score is the average of these
        • Subscores that no one cares about
        • English, Math, Reading and Science are each worth ¼ of your total score.
        • Graded on a curve
    • Most colleges do NOT “superscore” the ACT (they use your best single test)
  • The average SAT score is a hair above 1000, and the average ACT score is around 21. An SAT-ACT score conversion chart is on the back of the handout. Make sure you grab a copy!

Redsigned SAT vs. ACT: Content

  • Writing and Language
    • Fix grammatical and rhetorical errors in passages. Graphs.
  • Math
    • Through pre-calc. Formulas provided. No calculator allowed on about 1/3 of the questions.
  • Reading
    • Relatively easy vocab. Difficult questions about reading passages.
  • NO Science
    • Yay?
  • Essay (Optional)
    • Analyze how the author of an essay makes his or her case. Your opinion on the topic is irrelevant.
  • English
    • Fix grammatical and rhetorical errors in passages. NO graphs.
  • Math
    • Through pre-calc. NO formulas provided. Calculator allowed on all questions.
  • Reading
    • Easy vocab. Straightforward questions. Time pressure.
  • Science
    • Not much science knowledge required. Time pressure.
  • Essay (Optional)
    • Compare and contrast your perspective on a social or political topic with those provided.

Which test is right for you?

  • Take an official practice ACT (available free online). Compare your results to those from the Redesigned PSAT you took in October. For maximum nerd points, you can also take a practice Redesigned SAT (available for free online).
  • If you did a lot better on the Redesigned SAT/PSAT, then prepare for and take the Redesigned SAT.
  • If you did a lot better on the ACT, or about the same, then take the ACT.
  • If you did about the same on both tests, it comes down to tie breakers. Did you have a preference? Do your colleges superscore both tests? Do you get testing accommodations? Do your colleges accept the ACT in lieu of Subject Tests?
  • To repeat: all colleges that require standardized tests will accept both the Redesigned SAT and the ACT.
  • This presentation contains the most up-to-date information about the SAT and ACT, but the test makers release new information from time to time. Visit the College Board or ACT website and sign up to receive updates as soon as they become available!
  • Check out (yes, that's how it's spelled) and for more in-depth analysis of the Redesigned SAT.

A Few More Things to Consider

  • Most students who have already completed Algebra II should plan to take EITHER the SAT or the ACT twice during their junior year.
  • You can request a copy of your SAT if you take the test in October, January, or May; you can request a copy of your ACT if you take the test in December, April, or June.
  • Do any of your colleges require Subject Tests? You can't take Subject Tests and the SAT in the same month. Also, a few colleges accept the ACT in lieu of Subject Tests.
  • Check out colleges' own websites or Naviance to find out how your scores match up with last year's incoming freshmen. Also make sure to check on whether your favorite schools care about the Essay portion of the SAT or ACT.
  • Most colleges will “superscore” your best SAT Math and Evidence-based Reading and Writing scores. For the ACT, most colleges use only your best overall composite score, not your best individual section scores from different tests.
  • SAT/ACT scores are just one factor in college admissions. Keep that GPA up, take challenging classes, and do extracurricular activities you're passionate about!
  • Several dozen schools are “test-optional”, and several hundred admit a significant number of students each year without regard to their test scores.
  • Tutoring and diligent study can raise your score, but it is just as important to know what your testing options are and to have clear goals.

A Final Thought

  • "A college, being a humanitarian institution, cannot afford to make mistakes against the individual."
  • - Carl Brigham, creator of the SAT

SAT or ACT: Choose Wisely!

  • For more information about the SAT and ACT, please visit my website:

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