Determining your SAT, ACT or test-optional route


Photo by Nathan Ramirez

Junior Ryan Tang prepares for his upcoming SAT.

Michaela Boeder, Senior Features Writer

On March 22, an SAT test free of cost will be administered to RM juniors who registered. This raises concerns amongst RM students regarding whether the ACT or SAT would be a better fit for them, or even if these tests should be prioritized at all. 

The main difference between the ACT and the SAT lies in the quantity of questions. For the ACT, test takers answer 75 English, 40 science, 60 math and 40 reading questions. This amounts to a total of 215 questions in 2 hours 55 minutes, not including breaks. On the other hand, the SAT is 3 hours long without breaks, to answer 154 questions. The breakdown of the SAT is 52 reading, 35 writing and language and 58 math questions. Neither test penalizes the test-taker for guessing.

Although there are distinct differences between the two college entrance exams, the tests consist of similar overall content. “Many colleges are going test-optional or not requiring tests at all, and in any event, the two tests are highly intercorrelated,” Professor Emeritus of Educational Policy and Leadership at the University of Oregon David Conley said.

Both standardized exams can play a role in the college admissions process, and may also be used to award scholarships.

While some students consider time as a factor when deciding to take the SAT or ACT, junior Hana Mahdood considered the actual content of the test. “I’m planning on going into law. I’m more humanities-based and from my experience of talking to older people who’ve taken the ACT and SAT, they said the ACT is more for humanity based fields [and] the SAT is more scientific,” Mahdood said. 

For another student, the test’s reputation was a distinction that played a role in their decision. 

“I took the SAT because it’s been more traditional. There wasn’t really anything else to it. Growing up all I heard about was the SAT. Also, [colleges] just started taking the ACT fairly recently. I worried that maybe they would go back on it,” senior Raya Arora said. 

Arora was satisfied with her score on the 1600 SAT scoring scale. Her preparation included an in-person tutoring service called C2 Education. “I studied for the SAT for over a year. At first, I was going in once a week and then twice; eventually my entire life was dedicated to the SAT,” Arora said. 

In-person tutoring is not the only way RM students prepare. Senior Kimia Shokouhi took virtual preparation classes online through KaPlan. “There were 100 people in [the online class].  I think it was pretty helpful. They gave good tips such as letter of the day,” she said.  Letter of the day is a strategy that encourages test takers to pick a letter before going into the test and to choose that letter on any question they do not know the answer to. 

Tutoring may not be an option for all students, as the average tutoring rates for test prep can range from $21/hr to $100/hr according to Additionally, tutoring can be time consuming and hard to balance with other activities. “I can’t get tutors because that takes a lot of time. Also, I’m just better paced on my own, so I just got a bunch of practice books instead,” Mahdood said. 

For those who do not think standardized testing is the right path for them in college admissions or are not confident in the score they receive, test-optional may be the route to go. 

According to The National Center for Fair and Open Testing, over 1,800 accredited, four year colleges and universities are going test-optional for fall 2023 admissions. Recently, Columbia University announced it will be going test optional indefinitely, making it the first Ivy League school to do so, as stated in a recent Forbes article

For Arora, this is a positive change in college admissions. “I think that more focus should be put on the well-roundedness of a student rather than the talent or ability in a certain subject. In order to succeed in the real world, you’re going to have to take intelligence from different aspects of life and not just [one] specific thing,” Arora said. 

Another RM student questions the relevance and the disparity between what juniors and seniors learn in class and what appears on the test. “A lot of times it’s stuff that was taught years ago, like freshman and sophomore year, so it is kind of pointless. [The ACT] almost tries to sabotage you into not doing well,” Shokouhi said. 

Additionally, the test may not be fair to all groups of students because of socioeconomic status and unequal access. 

“I think that due to their history of being very discriminatory towards minorities, I don’t necessarily agree with standardized testing. I don’t believe colleges should take that as a measure of your intelligence,” Mahdood said. 

Mahdood, Shokouhi and Arora agree that colleges should prioritize other aspects of an applicant’s profile such as extracurriculars and other passions. “I don’t think there is necessarily a way to measure intelligence in a straightforward manner,” Arora said.

With the increasing number of colleges going test-optional, college entrance exams have lost significant value as a determinate in admissions. 

This may be as a result of colleges recognizing that standardized tests do not measure a person’s intellect, only their knowledge of how the test works. “I don’t think the SAT is fair at all. It’s completely ridiculous. It’s a measure of how well you can take the test. Even my tutor said that the SAT is all strategy. It’s not intelligence,” Arora said.