Both the ACT and SAT tests are used by colleges to determine eligibility for admissions. Since 2007, the tests have been acceptable by all 4-year colleges in the United States. Both of these tests have the same goal: to provide colleges with information relative to a prospective student's academic ability, so that colleges can make informed decisions on admission and placement. Historically, the SAT has been the more popular test - the one taken by more high school seniors. However, the ACT has been steadily growing in popularity. In 2010, for the first time in the history of either test, more high school seniors took the ACT test than the SAT. The ACT continues to grow in popularity and outpace the SAT. The SAT and ACT tests both provide colleges with good information about prospective students, and so to understand why the ACT is slowly becoming the preferred test, it helps to examine the different ways in which these two tests evaluate students.
After 2016, major changes took place in the structure of the SAT. The test now is broken up in to several sections: evidence-based reading and writing, math, essay, and one experimental section. The experimental section could be in any of the above categories (reading, math, or writing), and does not count toward the student's SAT score. It is unidentified, however, so the student doesn't really know which section is the experimental section. This section is literally experimental; SAT uses it to try out new questions or concepts before integrating them (or not) into future versions of the SAT. The SAT is scored anywhere from 400 to 1600, based on the combined scoring from each section. Unlike the ACT, the SAT does not have a science section. However, like the ACT, the SAT does not remove points for wrong answers.
The ACT is broken up into four sections with an optional writing test that many 4 year colleges require. The four sections of the ACT cover reading, math, science, and English. Each of the 4 sections are scored separately, at a maximum of 36 points. The score contains only correct answers - wrong answers do not give a student points toward their score, but points are not deducted for wrong answers. The scores from each section of the ACT (except for the optional writing test, which is scored separately) are averaged to create the composite score, which is what most are referring to when they speak about their ACT score.
Why the ACT is Becoming Popular
In order to uncover the reason why the ACT test is becoming the more popular option, it helps to examine what each test is actually evaluating. As far as the content of the questions go, the SAT is more focused on a student's critical thinking, reasoning and problem-solving ability. The ACT, on the other hand is more quantitative and is designed to measure what a student has actually learned during their high school career. Both aspects are important, and it is easy to see the value in each test strategy. The SAT can give a college some insight on how quickly a student will learn new things and apply critical thinking to new subjects.
The ACT tells the college what the student knows already, which is the reason it is becoming the more popular test. The composite score gives a decent snapshot of where a student really is academically, which helps not only with admission decisions, but with placement decisions as well. It would seem that it is easier to quantify a decision for admittance or placement into a college with a test that shows evidence of where the student actually stands academically and the learning the student actually achieved.