Background on the ACT and SAT

A junior's worst nightmare

Photo credit to Texas OnCourse.

Photo credit to Texas OnCourse.

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Standardized tests: You know them, you hate them. Above all of the APs and homework and tests, they are perhaps the worst part of junior year. Its’s probably not even an exaggeration to say that every student dreads the SAT and ACT. So what’s the point of these tests? Why are we forced to take them? Why do they even exist? Let’s explore.

Although students have been taking college entrance exams since the late 1800s, the name “SAT” (formerly short for Scholastic Assessment Test) wasn’t used until 1926. The history of the SAT is complicated: the math section was repeatedly removed and reinstated; colleges didn’t required the test, then did; the test was scored out of 2400, then out of 1600. Thirty three years later, in 1959, the “ACT” (formerly short for American College Testing) was born. This test was founded to appeal to students that didn’t live in the Northeast and weren’t applying to mainly Ivy League schools. Although the SAT was more popular than the ACT for most of history, as of 2010, the number of students that take the ACT has surpassed the number of students that take the SAT. This trend can definitely be seen at Rye, where the ACT has become the more popular test to take in recent years.

ACT and SAT prep books. Credit to Ivy Experience.

Let’s break down the SAT. The test consists of four sections: reading, grammar, math with no calculator, and math with calculator. For the reading part, students have 65 minutes to complete 52 multiple choice questions. Students are given 35 minutes to answer 44 questions for the grammar section. Combining the two math sections gives students 80 minutes to solve 58 questions. There is also an essay portion of the test, which has become increasingly irrelevant as more colleges decide not to require it. When scoring the test, graders will combine the reading and grammar sections and combine the two math sections, and grade both sections out of 800. As a result, a perfect score is a 1600. What most test-takers like about the SAT is that they are allowed a large amount of time to take the test. However, most students complain that the math with no calculator section can be challenging and more time-consuming than other sections.

Although they are considered very similar, the ACT and SAT actually have a number of key differences. The ACT consists of a grammar, math, reading, and science section. The grammar section is 75 questions in 45 minutes. For the math section, students are allowed 60 minutes to answer 60 questions. Unlike the SAT, there is no non-calculator section, which many students like. Both the reading and science parts are 40 questions in 35 minutes. What most students find with the ACT is that the timing is very challenging. Compared to the SAT, students have significantly less time to complete each section on the ACT. This is often a reason that students will choose the SAT over the ACT.

Students taking a standardized tests. Photo credit to The Atlantic.

However controversial these tests are, they have been crucial to the college application process for a very long time. As much as students dread taking standardized tests, they are necessary for most colleges. Stay tuned for more articles about the SAT and ACT!