Taking a New Approach - The ACT
by Eddie LaMeire
ThinkTank Learning Senior Consultant
For over 100 years, one of the most daunting parts of the college application process has been made up of just three letters: SAT. Originally conceived as a screening test for students applying to top-tier East Coast colleges, the SAT has developed into a rite of passage for over 1.5 million teenagers annually. Needless to say, an industry has sprung up over the past quarter century regarding preparation for the exam.
As a high school student in San Francisco, I was one of the students for whom the SAT and its preparation was basically a requirement. My mother and father, having grown up in New York City and New Jersey, respectively, both went through the same. None of us realized that at nearly the same time, in schools primarily in the Midwestern and Southern states, our peers were taking similar exam, yet completely different in several ways: the ACT.
When I began in college admissions, I worked at a university in the South, and, to my surprise, the lion’s share of our students had taken the ACT rather than the SAT. I came to realize that this actually makes sense, as ACT’s offices are located in the Midwest, while College Board, the administrator of the SAT, is headquartered on the East Coast.
Developed in the 1950s in order to provide students with an alternative to the SAT, the ACT currently has 1.2 million takers, and it is accepted at nearly every university that accepts the SAT. In fact, until recently, there were more universities that accepted the ACT rather than the SAT. Of course, a conversion scale exists, with a perfect 36 on the ACT equaling a 2400 on the SAT.
California is dominated by the SAT, but that doesn’t mean that the test isn’t administered in the state. And, it is my contention that students should seriously consider taking the ACT in addition to the SAT. In my experience, I have encountered several students whose SAT scores are higher than their ACT scores. However, I have seen far more students whose ACT scores are immeasurably higher than their SAT scores.
The primary reason for this issue stems from the fact that the SAT is really primarily a reasoning test, as expressed in the official title of the exam, “The SAT Reasoning Test.” The SAT, in other words, is largely a logic exam. To put it in a simpler manner, a friend of mine who used to work for College Board, and who ultimately moved into tutoring the ACT, expressed it in this way: If a student encounters two similar problems from the SAT and the ACT, the SAT problem will typically have one additional step, intended to throw the student off.
The ACT, conversely, is a far more content-oriented exam. Very little trickery exists within the problem sets, and the test is generally considered to be a far more straight forward exam.
This theory tends to play out in practice. When I see the students who have scored far higher on the ACT than the SAT, they are almost exclusively the “pluggers.” They’re the hard workers, the ones who “grind it out,” the ones who get A’s, but who work for it. On the flip side, the students who walk into tests with no preparation and walk out with perfect scores, the kids who love puzzles and can finish the hardest of them during the commercial breaks of their favorite TV shows, the teenagers for whom everything seems to come so easy, are the students who typically fare better on the SAT than the ACT.
To be continued…
For next month, we’ll speak about some of the specifics of the ACT: the structure, the scoring, and general strategies. For right now, though, take an inventory of your son or daughter’s personality. Think honestly about where they stand. And, in the meantime, take a practice ACT.