When applying to undergraduate programs, students have the choice between taking the ACT or the SAT. While these assessments are generally used for the same purpose (comparing applicants), their focus and formats can be quite different, which, depending on your strengths and learning style, can make one or the other a better fit for you.
For almost 100 years, students have taken the SAT in their junior or senior year of high school as they prepare for the college admissions process. While the test’s format and purpose has changed over the years, the current version of the SAT is used to measure a student’s general academic knowledge and critical thinking and reasoning skills.
Students must complete a number of math, reading, and writing items over the course of several hours. As previously mentioned, the SAT is largely focused on assessing your ability to use critical thinking and reasoning to solve problems. For example, students may not know the meaning of each vocabulary word that they encounter, but by analyzing the context and the available answer choices, they can potentially deduce the correct answer.
Unlike the SAT, the ACT has a focus that includes science—an attribute that can be important to those students who plan to apply to American science programs. The ACT also assesses your math, reading, and writing skills in a timed environment.
In general, the ACT utilizes questions that are less complicated than the SAT’s. But it is also critically important to note that for students in foreign countries, the ACT is not as widely offered as the SAT.
Which exam is right for you?
For many international students, one of the most important items to consider when choosing between the ACT and SAT is language ability. Given the SAT’s emphasis on grammar, sentence structure, and vocabulary, the test-taker’s knowledge of and ability with the English language will play a key role in success.
For those students who are concerned about how their English skills will affect their test scores, the ACT offers less emphasis on English grammar, sentence structure, and vocabulary. (It is worth noting, however, that it is not entirely absent from the exam). Students who are stronger in quantitative subjects like math and science may find that the ACT is more oriented toward their abilities and academic knowledge.
Ultimately, either test will satisfy the colleges to which you are applying, so the answer to this question lies in your strengths and weaknesses. For native English speakers and those with advanced English language skills, the SAT may pose little issue, and it may be more readily available to you. For individuals with less developed language skills, the ACT can be a great way to demonstrate your abilities in other areas like math and science.
Whichever you choose, good luck!
David White is a contributing writer for UniversityTutor.com, the world's largest global marketplace for finding independent tutors.