Stuck on Standardized Tests?

The college application process can be stressful! Sophomores and juniors in high school are preparing to take the big college entrance exams – the SAT and the ACT. The results of these tests are used to determine college admissions and merit-based scholarships. While both exams are very important, colleges note the range of your scores and consider a wide variety of criteria when considering your college application. Don’t be scared! Just come to the test well-rested and thoroughly prepared and do your best.

What is the ACT?

The ACT is a standardized test used for college admission in the United States. The ACT is comprised of four sections: Math, Reading, English and Science. It also includes an optional essay section. This exam is designed to measure your knowledge, understanding and skills you have acquired through your schooling. Students have 2 hours and 55 minutes to complete the test if they do not wish to do the essay and 3 hours and 40 minutes if they opt to write the essay. This test is ranked on a scale of 1 – 36.

What is the SAT?

The SAT is another standardized test whose scores colleges take into account when considering applications. It is designed to be a test of a student’s academic skills. This exam focuses on reading, writing/language and math. There is also an optional essay section. The test duration without the essay is 3 hours. With the essay, students have 3 hours and 50 minutes to take the exam. This test is ranked on a scale of 400 – 1600.

What are the Differences between the ACT and SAT?

Most colleges will accept either the ACT or SAT, though many students opt to take both exams to add depth to their application.  The specific entrance requirements may vary between schools, so be sure to do your research ahead of time.

The ACT covers science and critical thinking while the SAT does not. However, in the SAT math section, students must be familiar with data analysis and be proficient without a calculator for one section. In the ACT math section, data analysis is not covered, and a calculator may be used on all sections. Finally, though both tests offer an optional essay, they are designed differently. The SAT will test your comprehension of a text while the ACT essay will examine how well you evaluate and analyze issues that are complex in nature.

 How Can You Improve Your Score?

The beauty of both the SAT and the ACT is you are able to retake them. If you are unhappy with your initial score, it may be a good idea to study up and retake the test. Utilize free test prep tools and materials available from ACT, the College Board (creators of the SAT), and other non-profit organizations. Talk with your school counselor about your school’s resources, and maybe buy a test prep book or software to keep the ball rolling. Many schools or communities also offer SAT or ACT prep courses. These are incredibly valuable and can make a notable difference in your scores.

You can also use resources such as Khan Academy, which offers free help broken down by subject. In addition, students are encouraged to create an account with the College Foundation of North Carolina (CFNC) at CFNC is the number one resource for students as they plan, apply and pay for college.