Written by A-List tutor, Dory Schultz
With the recent update to the SAT, one question we have frequently heard over the past year is, “Do the changes to the SAT affect which test I should take?” Because the newest iteration of the SAT is still a somewhat unknown quantity, some students (and parents!) are worried that colleges will perhaps prioritize accepting ACT students over SAT students. Our sources tell us that this worry is unfounded: an impressive SAT score is still an impressive SAT score, and an SAT score at any percentile will not be prioritized above or below a similar ACT score. For most students, there will not be a substantive difference between performance on the two tests, but knowing the biggest differences between the tests can guide us as to which test might be better suited to each individual student. In some ways, the redesigned SAT has become more like the ACT, but in other ways, the changes to the SAT have increased the elements that differentiate it and actually made it friendlier!
If you struggle with timing, you might have an easier time on the redesigned SAT. The SAT has always allowed more time per question than the ACT, and the redesigned SAT emphasizes that difference. One of the big changes was a total revamp of the English section, making it very similar to that of the ACT. However, the ACT asks 75 English questions over 45 minutes (giving us 36 seconds per question) while the SAT asks 44 similar questions over 35 minutes (approximately 48 seconds per question); this works out to 32% more time per question than the ACT! The timing differences on the other sections have widened even more. On the Reading test, the ACT allows 52.5 seconds per question, while the SAT offers 75 seconds per question (almost 43% more time!) while the SAT math test(s) average out to over a minute and 22 seconds per questions vs. one minute per question exactly on the ACT (about 38% more time). Students who prefer a faster pace certainly may perform better on the ACT, but the expanded time cushion offered by the redesigned SAT gives test-takers way more time to focus on nailing each and every question.
One element of the redesigned SAT that might turn off some students is the no calculator math section. Calculator addicts hate the idea that they will not have access to their trusty companion, but informed students recognize the helpful secret of the no calculator section. Instead of thinking about the section as a scary set of questions where we can’t use our calculators, a savvy test-taker uses one crucial fact to speed up his or her process: the no calculator questions don’t require calculators! Paradoxically, many questions on both tests should be done without a calculator, but students tend to waste time spinning their wheels by performing unnecessary calculations. Knowing a calculator is not required frees up many students to more quickly identify the most efficient steps to a correct solution.
Ultimately, every student should try both tests and see which one works better for them. Though the format of the SAT has changed, the content is mostly the same, and many students will find that the new format actually makes it easier than ever before for them to prove their brilliance!