ACT vs. redesigned SAT: is there a preference among students?

Pearl Zhong

While seniors are finishing their last minute testing for college apps, juniors have only just begun to prepare for SAT and ACT exams and are forced to confront the first administration of the redesigned SAT, which rolls out in March 2016.

According to counselor Tami Wall, although colleges accept both ACT and SAT test scores, the SAT exam has historically been more popular.

However, Wall said she is already observing a more equal balance between the two tests in the student body.

“I think it’s really getting to a 50-50 statistic in what I’m seeing in our students,” Wall said.

Old SAT vs. New SAT infographic

As for the first rollout of the redesigned SAT exam in March 2016, Wall said that it is difficult to predict whether the new SAT or ACT will attract more students.

Junior Ashlyn D’Orazio prefers the ACT exam because she said it presents the questions in a straightforward fashion. Likewise, she does not want to study for something that doesn’t have previously established results.

“I knew that the SAT was changing and I didn’t want to deal with that. No one really knows what [the SAT] is going to be like,” D’Orazio said.

Four practice SAT tests are currently available on the College Board website to help students prepare for the redesigned test.

Green Test Prep tutor Anthony-James Green said that the redesigned SAT exam is very similar to the ACT exam, so students will see little variety in test format and questions.

“Before, there were two very different exams: The SAT as it’s standing now and the ACT exam. It offered students a bit of variety, and you could figure out which one you were best at and preferred. I’ve never had a student who hasn’t preferred one test to the other. But now, you pretty much have two versions of the same test,” Green said.

He also added that there is a higher preference for the ACT among students in the Green Test Prep database.

However, Green believes this imbalance in preference will ultimately even out as people adjust to the new SAT and the old version fades away.

“Right now, it’s just so crazy and tumultuous. People are just trying to stick with what they know is going to come out and what they can predict,” Green said.

According to Green, the current version of the SAT format is extremely unpopular, as both students and parents believe it to be random and unpredictable, unlike the ACT exam.

“If you could get a perfect score on the ACT, you can pretty much get a perfect score on any ACT,” said Green.

According to Wall, the College Board is making an effort to better align the new SAT with the Common Core curriculum.

“It’s now reflecting more on what students are learning in the classroom,” said Wall.

Wall encourages students to take the January 2016 SAT exam if they feel comfortable with the current version, or the June or October 2016 exams if they don’t wish to be the first to take the new exam.

However, Wall recommends that students refrain from taking the March 2016 SAT exam, which is the first time the new SAT will be administered.

“The [College Board] is going to have to work out bugs and trial and error, and there are going to be mistakes in the first national administration. Why should our students be within those scores, when they have many other applicable options on file? We don’t want our juniors to be the guinea pigs,” Wall said.

According to College and Career Specialist Paula Vantrease, the redesigned SAT will return to being scored on its original 1600 point scale—800 points for critical reading and 800 points for math—as opposed to the current 2400 point scale, which includes another 800 points for writing.

In addition, the redesigned SAT will not penalize students for incorrect answers and the writing portion will be optional, which mimics the format of the ACT exam.