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Many students applying for college in the US can, and are, taking the American College Test instead of the Scholastic Aptitude Test. What’s the difference between them?

education Updated: Apr 10, 2012 11:27 IST
Sparsh Sharma
Sparsh Sharma
Hindustan Times

International students applying to universities in the US can take one of two tests—the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) or the ACT (American College Test), which started in India in 2005. Traditionally, the SAT was the test of choice, but these days, an increasing number of students is taking the ACT because schools in the US now accept the scores of both the tests.

The SAT and ACT are different tests in that they measure varied skills, but both fulfil the same role in the admissions process. So depending on your strengths and weaknesses, you may perform better on one test than the other.

The case for SAT

According to Kathleen Fineout Steinberg, executive director- communications at The College Board, there are a number of reasons why the SAT stands out:

1 The SAT features independent subsections ie each section of the SAT is valid as an individual measure of critical reading, mathematics, and writing skills, which enables students to demonstrate mastery in specific areas.

2 SAT questions are pre-screened. Before any question appears on a scored section of the test, it is included on one of the unscored test forms that are included in every SAT administration around the world. This ensures that each question is fair to all students regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, country of origin or socio-economic status.

3 The SAT is a longer test and this is beneficial to students because it provides more time per question.

4 The test goes beyond what students learn in school, thus encouraging them to apply the knowledge they have—a pre-requisite if you want to study abroad.

The case for ACT

Suraj Raghavan, senior consultant, international client outreach and partnerships, ACT Inc, lists the advantages Indian students would have if they give ACT:

1 The ACT measures academic skills taught in school which can lead to better performance in the test, which is accepted by almost all US schools including the Ivy Leagues.

2 The test provides a clear assessment of student readiness based on unique ‘college readiness benchmarks’ on the four subject areas—English, math, reading, and science, and the optional ACT writing test. Students who achieve scores at or above the benchmark scores demonstrate that they are ready for first year credit bearing classes, at all four-year institutions of higher education in the US including the Ivy League schools.

3 The ACT sends composite scores to the universities a student wants to apply to, so even if you have not done well on one particular section, you can make up for this in the overall score.

Both tests increasing in popularity in India

In the last three years, the number of SAT takers in India has increased by 36%. To serve the growing number of test-takers, the College Board and ETS, which administers the test now have 32 test centers in India, up from only 20 in 2009,” says Steinberg.

For ACT, the sole testing centre at Lala Lajpatrai College, which opened in 2005, has seen an increase in test takers (40 in 2010; 60 in 2011). “We are just beginning formal steps to introduce students to the advantages of taking the ACT as a way to demonstrate academic achievement and learn about their own level of college and career readiness,” says Raghavan.

Which should you take?
Chirag Arya, founder of AP Guru, says, “SAT is more English-centric, so Indian students find it difficult because we are essentially a math and science society. SAT is 2/3rd English and students have to memorise 5,000 words while ACT is 1/3rd English. Students generally score 750 out of 800 in the math section in SAT but only 1,100 out of 1,600 in the verbal section. When these students give ACT, they get selected to top universities. Since ACT is not an IQ test, students tend to fare better in it.” According to counsellors, while some students end up scoring substantially higher in ACT; there are others who could do better on the SAT. Some students also give both —to report the best of both scores to the universities they want to apply to.

First Published: Apr 10, 2012 11:19 IST