New 2016 SAT v. ACT

  • With the new version of the SAT coming out next year (2016), many are probably wondering which test (SAT or ACT) to prepare for. As a rule, colleges accept the  results of either test when making admissions decisions. Up until relatively recently, the SAT was the preferred test for most students, since it is perceived (and  marketed) as easier to prepare for than the ACT. In the past few years, however, more and more students are opting to take the ACT.i In fact, some might even argue that College Board is reformatting the SAT for precisely this reason: the makers of the SAT want to regain their competitive edge against the ACT.
  • This argument is especially convincing when you examine the changes that the SAT is undergoing; in almost every way, the new 2016 SAT is going to mimic the ACT. First of all, like the current ACT, the new SAT will impose no penalty for wrong answers. Also, like those on the ACT, question on the new SAT will have not 5, but 4 possible multiple-choice answers. The writing section of the new SAT will be virtually identical to that of the current ACT. Like the ACT, the new SAT will not have sentence completions on the Reading section, and will instead directly test vocabulary in the Writing portion of the test. And finally, the reading section of the new SAT will include charts and graphs, much like the natural science section of the ACT.  All of this raises an important question: If the two test are becoming so similar, how will students know which one to take? Well, in terms of content, the ACT is technically still the harder test; the ACT math section covers trigonometry (SAT math does not), and the ACT has a natural science section (SAT does not). However, in terms of format, the SAT is arguably the harder test. And understanding a test’s format is crucial for excelling on it. For instance, even though the ACT math covers more content than does the SAT math, the ACT questions are worded in a more straightforward way than SAT questions. In other words, while the actual calculations are probably easier to perform on SAT math, the correct answers are often very difficult to find because the questions and answer choices are phrased in an intentionally disorienting way. The same is generally true for the reading sections on both tests; although the difficulty of the reading passages on the ACT and SAT is comparable, the process of answering questions on the SAT is more complex and time-consuming. This is a huge deal, because in order to get points on standardized tests, you need to understand both the content being tested and the exact question being asked.


  • Whether to take the ACT or SAT is largely a matter of personal preference, but is important to know that, in general, colleges are more willing to “superscore” SAT results than ACT results. Almost all colleges superscore (pick best sectional scores) when it comes to the current SAT, but many colleges do not do this for the ACT. Instead, most colleges offer “score choice” for the ACT, which means the single best overall test score is considered. However, for the new SAT, colleges have not yet indicated whether they will superscore the test at all. So, if you have the chance to take the SAT before it changes, you may want to do so in order to take advantage of the current SAT superscoring policy