Delaware Today College Guide 2012: Getting an Edge. Is test-prep for everyone?

Getting Testy: SAT vs. ACT

More and more, as colleges and universities have been placing increased emphasis on things like extracurricular activities and recommendation letters, standardized testing is becoming a less important, if still necessary, evil. Regardless of what you might’ve heard, admissions departments continue to rely on the ACT and SAT as a time-tested way to measure academic ability and predict the success of applicants.

Back when many of us were in school, you either took the SAT or the ACT, depending on where you lived. Now, most four-year colleges and universities accept both. But should students take both? And if not, which should they take? The answer
may well depend on the student.

What follows is a breakdown of both tests:

SAT (SAT Reasoning Test, Scholastic Aptitude Test, Scholastic Assessment Test)

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What is it? The most used exam, the SAT measures general thinking and problem-solving abilities. It’s divided into 10 sections that test math, writing and reading skills.

Who does well on it? Successful test takers and students with strong deductive reasoning ability.

What to expect: Students spend about four hours to answer 140 questions, most of them multiple choice. There’s also a free-response math section and an essay portion. Questions gradually increase in difficulty in each section, and the
SAT penalizes guessing by subtracting a quarter of a point for every incorrect answer—so if you don’t know it, leave it blank.

Scoring: 200-800 points in each of three subject areas for a cumulative score of 600-2,400. For the essay portion, two readers score each essay from 1 to 6 for a combined score of anywhere from 2 to 12.

Details: The SAT is offered in October, November, December, January, March, May and June. The $49 registration fee includes score reports for the student, family and up to four colleges.

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ACT (American College Testing)

What is it? This curriculum-based test measures many of the skills learned in high school.

Who does well on it? Students who perform well in class.

What to expect: About three hours long with 215 multiple-choice questions, the ACT has sections on English, math, reading and science. Students can also take a writing section, per the admission requirements of certain schools. Compared to the SAT, there’s less time to answer each question, but they don’t increase in difficulty, and students aren’t penalized for guessing.

Scoring: Students can earn up to 36 points for each section. All sections are then averaged into a composite score ranging from 1 to 36. For the optional writing section, two readers score the essay from 1 to 6, for a cumulative score of anywhere from 2 to 12.

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Details: Testing dates fall in September, October, December, February, April and June. The registration fee is $34; $49.50 with the writing test. The price includes reports for the student, their high school and up to four colleges. If the ACT is taken multiple times, students can select which test scores to report to colleges. To learn more, visit


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