Most people familiar with US university applications will know about the required SAT exam, but few people in Hong Kong know about the equally accepted ACT exam.
Let’s jump to the facts. All US unis will accept the ACT in place of the SAT and, in some cases, will even count the ACT as fulfilling one of the SAT Subject requirements. The ACT, like the SAT, is multiple-choice with exception to the essay (all students who want to submit ACT scores must take the ACT with Writing). The test dates do not overlap the SAT test dates, but also occur nearly once a month during the entire school year. Finally, the basic skills that are tested in the SAT are also tested on the ACT (except no vocabulary), but the ACT adds a Science section (which really doesn't test science!).
Which one should you take? A simple way to tell is based on your commitment to preparing, time remaining to the test, and your reading speed. If you don’t want to commit to ongoing self-studying or enrolling in courses, then take the ACT – ACT scores typically do not improve as much as SAT scores given similar levels of preparation. If you don’t have much time left before the exam, then take the ACT; less vocabulary and less trainability of the exam means you will score closer to your maximum score on your first try. If you are a slower reader, take the SAT – while both require fast reading speed, the ACT timing is even faster.
For those committed to getting into the best university possible, try to prepare for both. Start as early as possible (10th grade or even earlier) to be fully prepared for both exams when application time arrives. Capstone also offers a special SAT-ACT assessment which includes an overview of a student’s scoring potential for both tests, advice for which exam the student should focus on, and a study plan for how to self-prepare.
Ronald is the founder of Capstone, a leading enrichment center, and graduated from both MIT and UChicago. Since 2003, his graduating students have gained admissions into the top universities worldwide each year while his younger students consistently win awards in debate, public speaking and writing throughout Hong Kong and Asia.
The Standard Articles Column
Tuesday, September 11, 2012