SAT vs. ACT: What’s Going On?


SAT Versus ACT: What’s going on?

By Joe Cook


Recent News:

As many of you have already been informed, the Colorado Department of Education voted to change the official test given to Colorado high schoolers from the ACT to the SAT (Find the Official Announcement HERE). The initial plan was for the SAT to be given starting spring 2016 (now), but recent developments have proven that it looks like they will stave it off one more year. As mentioned in a recent article, the CDE has decided to continue the ACT for this year’s juniors as switching this late in the game would be detrimental to them and their future (Read the CDE’s Follow-up Letter HERE). While their logic may come as a shock, the decision certainly shouldn’t be. So, for now, if your student is a junior, keep planning on the ACT.


Advice from Learning Foundations:

            In the end, whatever the CDE decides only impacts the public schools and the free test given to all students. To be frank: who cares what CDE thinks or does when all that matters is what colleges accept. Our advice? Stay the course. If the colleges your student is applying to accept the ACT, have them take the ACT. If they accept the SAT, then have them take that. If they accept both, well, then it can get a little tricky. To answer that fully, I have to go deeper into the new SAT format.


The New SAT:

The new SAT is just that: new time amounts, new focuses, new question types, everything. Here’s the quick breakdown:


Reading: 65 minutes/ 52 questions.

Writing: 35 minutes/ 44 questions.


Calculator: 55 minutes/ 37 questions.

No-Calculator: 25 minutes/ 20 questions

Essay: 50 minutes


This is all well and good, you say, but that doesn’t really tell me anything. I applaud your confidence and ability to speak up! I would never leave you in the lurch, so here is the more important info about the new SAT.

The changes that really matter:

  • No guessing penalty. In previous incarnations, the SAT would assess a wrong answer with a -1/4 point while a blank answer simply received a zero. That’s gone now, so guess as much as you want!
  • 4 possible answers, not 5. Pretty much self-explanatory, but with them pulling the guessing penalty there’s a higher chance of guessing the right answer.
  • Tweaked vocabulary emphasis. Vocabulary hasn’t gone away entirely, but it has been relegated to more in-context approaches. The reading comprehension level of the passages have also gone up.
  • Every essay will have the same prompt. The prompt will be the same from test to test, but the document that is included will change. The new prompt will concentrate on identifying and analyzing an argument.

So what does that mean for your student? ACT or SAT? Well, that depends. During the course of my research, and with my experience teaching ACT preparation, I have come to the conclusion that if your student has solid math skills, but may find reading comprehension a challenge, I’d advise taking the ACT. However, if your student excels with reading comprehension, but his/her math skills aren’t the greatest (especially in Geometry), I advise taking the SAT.

This article may not answer every question, but I hope it helped! And, as always, please feel free to email Learning Foundations with any questions or concerns on this topic. We’re here to help!

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