The Facts:

2006:   1,206,455 took the ACT
1,465,744 took the SAT (a quarter million more SAT testers than ACT testers)
2012:   1,666,017 took the ACT
1,664,479 took the SAT (ACT passes SAT)
2014:   More than 173,000 took the ACT. Early projections indicate the ACT may now have over a quarter million more test administrations than the SAT. I predict that more than 2 million test takers will take the ACT in 2015 and the ACT will get even more buzz. They plan on releasing a computer testing option for the ACT in the next 12 months that I anticipate will be very popular with students.

A Washington Post analysis of 29 states found the following:

“…there were fewer SAT test-takers in the high school class of 2013 than there were in the class of 2006. By comparison, usage of the rival ACT admission test fell in three states: Idaho, Maine and South Dakota.

Over seven years, the declines in SAT test-takers exceeded 20 percent in 19 states, including drops of 59 percent in Michigan, 46 percent in Illinois, 37 percent in Ohio and 25 percent in Tennessee. 

And now the Northeast. In New York, home to the College Board, the SAT grew 3 percent. But the ACT grew 78 percent.”


1. SAT cheating scandals

In 2006, a scandal swept across the SAT testing world when it was revealed that some students had received the wrong scores – some higher than their actual score and some lower.  The College Board said it would change the scores for those students who received a score lower than their actual score, but unfortunately many of those students had already applied to college with the score they had originally received (the wrong score). However, the College Board did not change scores for students who received a score higher than their actual score, prompting confusion, disappointment, and a wave of lawsuits from disgruntled students who felt they had been cheated. The College Board and the company that scored the tests eventually settled the class action suit for $2.8 million. This amounted to $275 per student.

In 2010-2011, the ERB (Educational Records Bureau) admitted that errors had occurred on the scoring of the 2010 Independent School Entrance Examinations for students seeking admission to private secondary schools for the 2011 school year.

In 2011, it was revealed that students at a Long Island high school had been paying a former student as much as $2,500 to take the SAT for them. This student had used a fake ID to take the test in their name, but no alarm bells were raised during testing, even when the male test taker identified himself as a female student. It wasn't until rumors began to spread about the scheme that administrators started to suspect something was amiss. Seven students were arrested as a result of the investigation, including the test taker, who now faces felony fraud charges and criminal impersonation charges.


2. Horrific timing for a length increase on the newest version of the SAT in 2005 led to a significant PR hit

In the past ten to fifteen years, there has been aggressive push back against the dominant role the SAT has been playing in our culture. The test is widely perceived as being a source of undue stress in the lives of teenagers, and it is also seen as favoring wealthy students who can hire expensive test-prep tutors. One family I know paid over $5000 just for test prep. The SAT took a PR hit with the press and also with counselors when it expanded the test in 2005.

The outstanding non-profit group Fairtest, which works to end the misuses and flaws of testing practices, is over 20 years old now but Fairtest’s influence in eroding the impact of the college admission tests really started to gain momentum with the public in 2005, right when the SAT decided to lengthen the test, making it even more of a hassle in the already stress-laden life of teens. This confluence of events was horrific timing for the SAT, and they took a major PR hit.


3. No need for subject tests with the ACT

At several dozen of the most selective colleges and universities in the country (especially in the Northeast corridor), SAT subject tests are required. These one-hour content-based tests are held on Saturday mornings, simultaneously with the standard SAT administrations. These tests are seen by many as being another example of test score mania running amok. Many see these subject tests as a source of additional stress for students, and the subject tests also have the effect of adding more expense to the college admission process. The ACT has a huge advantage in the minds of the public because, while several dozen colleges require these subject tests with the SAT, less than ten colleges require students to take subject tests if they submit the ACT test with writing. This exemption from the subject test requirement is leading many college counselors to strongly recommend the ACT over the SAT.


4. Shrewd marketing: 13 states now require students to take the ACT and provide state funding for the test

In addition to assessing student performance, some states are using the ACT to assess the performance of their schools as well, and require all high school students to take the ACT, regardless of whether they are college-bound. Colorado and Illinois have incorporated the ACT as part of their mandatory testing program since 2001. Michigan, Kentucky, and Wyoming have required the ACT since 2007. North Dakota and Tennessee were the next states to require all high school juniors to take the ACT- they came on board in 2009. North Carolina committed in 2012, and Hawaii, Louisiana, and Montana began requiring the test in 2013. Arkansas and Utah committed in 2014, and five more states (Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, and Wisconsin) are planning on jumping on the bandwagon in 2015. In a brilliant marketing move by the non-profit ACT Inc., students living in states that partner with the ACT and offer the test to all of their juniors will be able to take the test for $34 instead of $38 for the ACT test without writing.

In another brilliant marketing move by the ACT Inc., the only students who can take the new digital version of the ACT in 2015 are students whose states partner with the ACT to offer the test to all of their students. Talk about a stroke of genius. Now more citizens will be pressuring their states to require the ACT so their children will be able to take the computerized version.


5. ACT is more content-based and aligned with school curriculum

This is how the ACT says it is different than the SAT: “The ACT is an achievement test, measuring what a student has learned in school. The SAT is more of an aptitude test, testing reasoning and verbal abilities” ( Everett Franklin Linquist, a University of Iowa professor, founded the ACT in November 1959.  The test was founded based on the premise that an examination to test students on practical knowledge rather than cognitive reasoning, such as that which was examined on the SAT, was essential. He was passionate about the fact that there was a need to develop an alternative to the SAT that was more closely aligned with what students actually learn in school.


6. Myth debunked that SAT is the preferred test / Fact that all colleges accept both tests is becoming more widely known

I used to meet so many people who thought that the SAT was the test preferred by most colleges, or that some colleges only accept the SAT. This was true for a few colleges and universities in the past, but not only is it not true anymore, I don’t hear the myth as often I used to. The colleges themselves are effectively getting the word out that both tests are accepted equally, and that you should take whichever test you are better at. The SAT has historically been dominant on the east coast and in the west, in the heart of the media hub, but as the perception of the SAT as the preferred test has changed, the media coverage is beginning to accurately reflect the truth: All colleges accept both tests, and they regard them as equals.


7. No scoring penalty on ACT

The SAT penalizes you for wrong answers, so guessing is discouraged. The ACT is scored based on the number of correct answers with no penalty for guessing (verbatim from


8. Required writing section on SAT

The newest version of the SAT (launched in 2005) implemented a mandatory writing section, whereas the ACT makes the writing test optional. It should be noted that many highly selective schools require the ACT with writing, but most colleges do not require the writing test, and ask any teenager if they want to take an optional writing test on a Saturday morning when they do not have to.


9. SAT is too long

The original SAT from 1926 featured 315 questions with a time limit of 97 minutes, but the current elongated version released in 2005 takes 3 hours and 45 minutes of actual test time and when you include breaks and check in times, you are talking about 7:45 am – 12:45 pm (5 hours). This does not even count extended travel time, nor does it count for students who have extended time on the test. The ACT takes 2 hours and 45 minutes of actual test time, about 4 hours total with breaks and registration.


10. The SAT keeps changing its identity and seems to lack a clear mission

The SAT is a standardized test widely used for college admissions in the United States. It was first introduced in 1926, and its name and scoring have changed several times, originally being called the Scholastic Aptitude Test, then the Scholastic Assessment Test, then the SAT Reasoning Test, and now simply the SAT (Wikipedia verbatim).

The College Board, the organization that administers the SAT, used to say that the older test was originally conceived as a measure of “aptitude.” They now say that the test functions as a measure of what students have learned. The College Board has abandoned the “aptitude” verbiage and now claims that the SAT “tests your knowledge of reading, writing and math” — subjects that are taught every day in high school classrooms, but many people disagree with this stance.


11. Format of the ACT is more appealing to many students

Some students perform better when the test uses the same structure throughout its entirety. Every ACT has the same four sections in the same order, which is not true for the SAT. Every ACT reading section is the same length and is categorized into the same four topics. Many students find that this better suits their style and is easier to manage than the SAT's unpredictable arrangement of ten sections.

Does the College Board notice what is going on? Absolutely, and they will be releasing a new version of the SAT in 2016 that will be shorter, will not have a guessing penalty, and will make the writing test optional. They are also trying hard to get states to require the SAT for juniors, but the ACT is way ahead of them and I see no evidence that the ACT is not continuing to gain momentum in this area.


12. The ACT saves families money

Most students take the ACT without writing. The cost of this test is $38, or $34 if you are in a state that has partnered with the ACT to offer the test to all of its juniors. The cost of the SAT is $52.50. The savings of over 30% for those who live in states that partner with ACT, Inc. is not insignificant for a low-income family.


I do not recommend the ACT over the SAT or the SAT over the ACT. One of my children was better at the SAT and the other child was better at the ACT. I recommend taking the test you are best at.

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