Tzu Chao Huang

Standardized tests; you can’t live with them, you can’t live without them. It is hardly an understatement to say test scores are one of the most important part of a college application, which is why it is vital to score well on them. Although many students are familiar with the SAT and view it as something essential, they should know they have a choice. Rival exam ACT, arguably less well known, is accepted with the same weight by most colleges. With that in mind, it is important to consider which test to take.

The SAT was changed this year and consists of a reading and writing section, and a math section. The essay is now optional. In addition, the test no longer has heavy vocabulary, focusing more on word use. The critical reading has changed to evidenced-based reading, focusing more on understanding and inferring the text. The math section has gotten harder, now spanning from algebra 1 to algebra 2 and trigonometry. The final score is just the number of correct responses, with no deduction for incorrectness. The SAT has 800 points each section, for a total of 1600.

Since the SAT was revised, old data is unreliable and new data is not indicative. However, College Board, the provider of the SAT does give percentile ranges. National percentiles place 80% at 1250 points, with 90 at 1340.

The ACT has four sections: reading, writing, math, and science, along with an optional essay. Reading focuses on text comprehension, writing on grammar and writing fluidity, and math encompasses algebra 1 to trigonometry. The science section does not test knowledge or calculations, but instead tests passage and infographic understanding. Unlike the SAT, its scoring is complicated. First, the number of correct responses from each section is counted, with no deduction for incorrect answers. Next, the raw scores are scaled to be between 1 and 36, 36 being the highest score. This is to make sure different tests are comparable. The average of all of the sections, rounded to the nearest whole number, is the composite and final score.

According to an ACT profile report, the average composite score over the last five years is 21 (after rounding). To be above the 80th percentile, one would need a composite score of over 25, with the 90th percentile at 28.

School statistics show 151 seniors (41.1%) took both tests last year and 116 (33.1%) in the year before that. They also show most students in Urbana take both the SAT and the ACT, or just the SAT. Only a handful relies solely on the ACT. This hints that students don’t trust the ACT, although two years of data showed an increase in ACT participation from 2015 to 2016. However, there is no reason to doubt the ACT.

Urbana Counselor Jonathan Walton said, “[Students should] take both.” While it is best to prepare for the one that fits you best, it is possible to score higher on the less preferable test; in the end, only the score matters to colleges. Walton also recommended that students take January SAT and February ACT in their junior year. The best strategy for studying is to try out both and focus on the one with greater appeal.

Senior Zion Kidd agrees with Walton’s suggestion to take both tests. While he prefers the SAT, he said a good strategy is to have a preference, focus on that choice, but still prepare for the other test. He has noted the new SAT is more similar to the ACT.

Senior Anushka Singhal also agrees to take both tests. She studied for one test at a time and recommends starting a few months early. Singhal said “[The ACT had] a little bit more math and science,” which she liked. If she were to take the test again, she would choose the ACT. However, she concluded that it “depends on what you prefer.”