Don’t overlook the SAT

Joanne Lee

With college application season drawing close, many students in school find themselves studying for the ACT and stressing over their potential scores. The most common complaint I hear in the halls of Xavier is about the grueling math section on the ACT. However, most students overlook an opportunity to raise their scores and simply skip the math section on the ACT altogether — taking the SAT. If time and funding allows for it, everyone should take the SAT along with the ACT because it plays to very different strengths and has a much easier math section.

Take it from someone who has competed in math competitions and took math classes with the grade above her — the math section on the ACT is hard. If you find yourself completely unable to answer the last chunk of problems on the math section with 5 minutes left on the clock, it’s not you, it’s the ACT. The problems ramp up in difficulty exponentially, and by the end, you’re left wondering what year of high school you missed that was supposed to teach you the material in the last five questions. On top of that, the time limit is so tight that the section, which should be a reasonably paced marathon, ends up feeling like an hour long sprint. With the SAT, however, the problems ramp up much more linearly, and never quite reach the difficulty that the ACT does. The time limit is also much more lenient, allowing for some double-checking and proper reasoning instead of a mindless rushing to the finish line like in the ACT. 

However, the ACT and the SAT engage in a trade of difficulty, and whether the trade is fair or not depends on the student and their strengths. Where the ACT has a difficult math section, it also has a very straightforward English and reading section, relative to that of the SAT’s. I found that I was able to get through the reading section by skimming the passage and using the questions themselves to guide me to specific paragraphs and lines. The answers to most questions could be found, word for word, in the text, and questions that did not ask for specific lines could be answered with a general summary. In addition, the science section of the ACT is essentially another reading section, as the questions rely on the same skimming strategies used in the reading and English sections. According to, “you don’t need to be a science whiz to do well on the ACT. The science test is assessing your ability to read and understand graphs, scientific hypotheses, and research summaries.” Meanwhile, the SAT has much more difficult reading and English sections. It is rather like the AP Language and Composition exam where one must read the passage closely on the first try and think very deeply and critically about the content and the author’s purpose. Using the process of elimination is much harder on the SAT, and I often found myself teetering between two answer choices. Personally, though, I found that the rise in difficulty in the reading and English sections of the SAT were outweighed by the drop in difficulty in the math section, and that the trade-off was very much worth taking the SAT over the ACT. 

While the ACT is much more popular among Xavier students, all students should consider taking the SAT to get a sense of which exam fits their strengths better. Students preparing for the exams should also remember that practice exams are always harder than the actual exams. Do not get discouraged as you study, and good luck on your standardized tests!