Credit of authorship to blog.prepscholar.com (June 2015)
Abridged for this blog.
One of the goals of the SAT overhaul is to make the test more straightforward, so many of its structural oddities (like the wrong answer penalty) have been eliminated.
The ACT structure, on the other hand, is staying mostly the same. Let’s go over the layout of the two tests, so you can understand the similarities and differences between them.
The SAT redesign involves some major changes to the scoring.
Returning to the 400-1600 scale. Ten years ago, when the College Board last implemented major changes to the SAT, it added the Writing section; there were then three scores from 200-800 to combine, making the top possible score a 2400. Now the writing and reading sections will count to the same Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score, which will be combined with the Math score to create a final score between 400-1600.
No more wrong answer penalty. You will no longer be penalized by ¼ point for every wrong answer! The idea of that policy was to discourage guessing and student’s reliance on test-taking strategies (a major goal for the overhaul).
The essay is given three different scores and no longer affects total score. Since it’s now optional, the new SAT essay will work a lot more like the ACT essay – you’ll receive a separate essay score that doesn’t factor into your score on the 400-1600 range.
The ACT scoring, on the other hand, is staying mostly the same – section scores from 1-36 along with the composite score. The exception is the ACT Writing. It will still be a separate score, but it will now be on a scale of 1-36.
The big difference between the ACT and the SAT remains how you need to budget time. While the SAT is more focused on analyzing specific points in the passage and understanding how the author constructs an argument, the ACT is more about reading comprehension.
Randomly ordered questions. The SAT reading tells you where to look for the answers to most questions, but one of the biggest challenges on the ACT reading is finding the information you need. The questions are ordered randomly and often do not give line numbers, which can make finding specific details very tricky.
Less time per question. The strict time constraints are the other big difficulty most students face with the ACT reading: you have roughly 8.5 minutes per ten question passage for the ACT reading, compared to 13 minutes per 10-11 question passage on the SAT.
Redesigned SAT Writing. As noted above, the SAT overhaul involves a complete redesign of the writing section, so that all questions are presented in context. For the new test, the writing section will be included in the same score as the reading, returning the SAT to its original 400-1600 scale
The similarities between these sections are much greater than their differences, but the ACT does emphasize slightly different skills than the new SAT.
A Lot More Questions. The ACT English has almost twice as many questions as the SAT Writing. This doesn’t necessarily make it more difficult, but it does necessitate a slightly different approach.
Slightly more focused on grammar and conventions. While the new SAT includes a few more questions about style, the ACT has the emphasis reversed. It’s primarily focused on the Usage and Mechanics questions, which cover sentence structure, grammar, and punctuation.
Big-picture questions. Though the two tests now cover almost all the same material, the ACT English has one type of question that the new SAT will not: main idea questions. Both tests ask questions like “what is the purpose of this passage?” in the reading section, but only the ACT includes them on the English as well.
Redesigned SAT Math
The changes to the SAT math are designed to make it more similar to the tests you take in math class, meaning you’ll be asked harder questions in a more straightforward way.
Heavily focused on algebra. One of the main goals of the new SAT is to make it more similar to what you do in school and what you’ll need for college. One part of this realignment is shifting the focus of the test towards algebra. Sixty-one percent of the questions will deal with algebraic topics.
More data analysis. The proportion of questions focused on data analysis is also increasing. Almost a third of the questions on the test will deal with manipulating ratios/percents and understanding graphs/charts.
Very little geometry. Only 6 questions will be asked about geometry and trigonometry with formulas provided.
The ACT math is staying more or less the same.
Far more geometry and trigonometry than the SAT. A quarter to a third of the questions will deal with geometry or trig. Formulas will not be provided so you must know the common ones.
Wider range of material. You will see questions about logarithms, graphs of trig functions and matrices, none of which appear on the SAT.
There still will not be a Science section on the new SAT, but questions are now included that ask you to analyze a chart or graph in all three math sections as well as two reading passages on scientific topics.
The ACT will continue to have a lot more science questions with its dedicated science section. It also asks more complex questions than the new SAT will, especially with regards to experimental design.
Although the SAT redesign brought it more in line with the ACT testing process, there are still distinct differences between the two tests, namely: time pressure, deeper math concepts, testing of English mechanics and the science section. Take a try at both exams to see which one best suits your skill set.
- Michelle Leonatti
Creator and founder of The Accepted Life and college admissions counselors shares her thoughts, musings, and insights into the college admissions process.