ACT Test Updates and A Comparison of the ACT and SAT Tests

ACT or SAT TestsOur last blog entry was a detailed rundown of the revamped SAT, followed by the promise of a look at recent ACT changes and the suggestion that your student should consider taking both tests. But if that sounds like more time, money and student energy than you want to invest, bear with me while we briefly compare the tests and cover the new ACT; then, I’ll explain some ways your student can take both and still save the time, money and energy that we’re all trying so hard to juggle. For an SAT/ACT comparison in a nutshell, you can glance at the handy chart at, to remind yourself of the major parts of college-admissions tests. Done? You will have noticed that, unlike the SAT, the ACT has a science test that aims to test not concrete science knowledge but critical-thinking skills. Both tests take roughly three hours and have optional essay sections of roughly comparable length, but each test’s essay section requires a different writing task. On the math section, the ACT allows calculator use throughout, but the SAT only allows it on certain questions; another difference is that the ACT does not test data analysis, while the SAT does. Finally, you will have seen that the composite scoring ranges are wildly different: SAT scores can go from 400 to 1600, but the ACT is scored from 1 to 36.

Click to Tweet: So, what are the recent changes to the ACT? One is that students will receive more individual feedback; four new subscore categories will now be reported: an English language score, a Progress Toward Career Readiness indicator, a Text Complexity Progress Indicator and a STEM score.

ACT Test Prep

(“STEM” is “Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics”.) By providing more specific information on individual performance, the test designers’ aimed to make students more aware of their strengths and how those might be maximized to achieve success at college and later at work.
Another change has to do with the format of the ACT’s optional essay section. In 2015, the essay section was reworked: Students were offered texts with differing perspectives on a complex issue and were then required to analyze and evaluate those texts by applying life experience, knowledge and reason. Now, students will be helped with a prompt giving them some context (direction), and then read three perspectives on that same issue. The writing task is to analyze all three, formulate an opinion, and then connect that opinion to the given perspectives. The explanation of this new essay section is a little involved, so students and parents can seek out a sample ACT essay question online. For the same reason, students should definitely try writing some as soon as they get the chance, which brings us to our last point of why and how to take both tests.

For decades, the conventional wisdom has held that the SAT is a test of intelligence and reasoning while the ACT tests achievement and readiness. However true (or not true) that may be, given the major SAT revamping to align with classroom curricula, I’ve seen that most students will have a natural preference for and perform better on one test over the other. For example, students who thrive on adrenaline and “test well” may do better on whichever test makes them feel more pressured to perform, while those prone to test anxiety may experience less stress and therefore perform better on whichever test they feel lets them “breathe” more. Students, however, should not take anyone’s word for that.
Students should take both tests early, and then spend the rest of their valuable time preparing for and taking the one that experience has shown “fits” them best. Why not work with your natural tendencies instead of against them? Nature is the most powerful and efficient force we know.

The good news is that students can experience both tests early and free by taking advantage of the ACT and SAT practice tests offered through the following websites: and (Khan Academy provides scaled scoring, enabling students to track their progress and estimate how they might do at a “real” SAT.) Afterward, students should have an idea of which test to begin preparing for and planning to take.

ACT Test Prep

ACT Test Prep

Illinois high schools have traditionally offered ACTs free to juniors, but in the midst of the state budget crisis, there is doubt as to whether schools will get the state funds to continue to offer any admissions test. The ACT program has recently launched and offered to institutions their “PreACT,” which the website describes as “a realistic ACT test experience;” interested schools and families can call a toll-free number or request information at the program’s website.

Some preparation materials are available through both websites, but they are not a substitute for the individualized, expert test preparation that students receive at MASTERs Plus: For students who have earned a score of 18(+) and then begin ACT prep with us, we guarantee an increase of at least 4 points. Call us at 708-798-8400 to enroll.

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