The Standardized Decision

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For all the tiresome tests, never ending quizzes, and practice exams, Townsend Harris students are left at a standstill when answering the most dire of questions: SAT or ACT?

As students start thinking about college in a high-achieving environment like Townsend Harris the question of which standardized test to take soon becomes a part of the big picture.  By default, students choose between taking the SAT, ACT, or even both.  Students cite time, money, and the preference of their top college choices as reasons for choosing one standardized test over another.  In conversations with junior class members currently making the decision, more planned to take the SAT alone than planned to take the ACT alone, but a large amount planned on taking both.

The SAT is a uniform test from the College Board that is taken by over 3 million students a year in over 170 countries. Lasting four hours, it tests Reading Comprehension, Writing, and Mathematics in ten sections, each 10 to 25 minutes long.  It is graded on a scale of 2400, with the highest score being 800 for each subject. The SAT is targeted to those comfortable with problem solving and reasoning.

The ACT is a test created by a company sharing its namesake.  It lasts four hours and has five sections: English, Mathematics, Reading, Science, and an optional Writing portion. The highest score on the ACT is 36. With straightforward questions and a focus on both trigonometry and science, the ACT is predominantly curriculum-based. A 26 on the ACT is roughly the same as an 1800 on the SAT.

Tiffany Ting, senior, said, “The ACT was much easier, but I just sent the SAT to colleges because I did good enough.” She suggested taking any one of the tests multiple times, noting that she did better on her second and third tries.

Ms. Sara Skoda, guidance counselor, advises that students try both, or even that they take advantage of the free practice tests offered by the Princeton Review, which are proctored and scored like the real tests.

Annie Medina, junior, is only taking the ACT, and is heavily considering test-optional schools. “I don’t like so many sections on the SAT,” she said, adding that a person who doesn’t do well on one test could be adept at the other.

Despite the fact that more colleges allow applicants to submit either test many sophomores are set on the SAT.

“A majority of the people I know, including my brother, took the SAT,” said sophomore Ibnat Iqbal.  Taking the PSAT in both freshmen and sophomore year has allowed students to kill two tests with one stone. Preparing for the PSAT gives them a head start in preparing for the SAT, giving students another reason for their choice.

Whether it be the SAT or the ACT many agree that the students of Townsend Harris are well prepared for both.

Freshman Eunice Baik sees her work here as all prep for these tests “judging from the vocabulary quizzes I’m given on a regular basis, as well as the analytical skills we are required to put to use for every story we read.”

According to a recent survey by the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, nearly 850 four-year colleges do not require any standardized test data as criteria for admission.  Many students may not realize that they can choose to avoid taking standardized tests altogether.

Ms. Skoda said, “Colleges are trying to move away from the tests, and they’re realizing that [the tests are] not as important as other parts of the application.”