ACT ushers in standardized testing season

A guide to which standardized test is best


Hillary Currier

Boxes of #2 pencils in the main office mean that it is standardized testing season.

By Allegra Wesson, Features Editor


The standardized testing season arrives with the ACT offered free at school on Tuesday, Feb. 27. The next SAT date is on March 10 with two nearby testing sites at Beaverton High School and Lake Oswego High School.


By now most juniors are starting to study, but some may still be wondering which test they should spend more time preparing for or if they even need to take both. In essence, both of the tests are very similar, but there are some key differences between them.


In the past, if you wanted to apply to a highly selective school, you would take the SAT. When the ACT was introduced, the decision over which one you took eventually became based upon where you lived. If you lived on the West or East Coast you would take the SAT, while those in the Midwest would take the ACT, which originated in Iowa. But in recent years, according to the website Newsday, the regional gap between tests is diminishing.


And colleges don’t have a preference either. Mollie Falker, a college counselor at Jesuit High School, has an in-depth understanding of the standardized tests.“Colleges do not have a preference, nor do they require scores from both the SAT and ACT,” Falker said.


Alumnus Eddie Bednarek graduated from Tigard High last year and applied to highly selective colleges in every region of the country. While he didn’t take the SAT, he scored a 32 on the ACT, which is in the 97th percentile. He has some advice for those who can’t choose which test to study for.


“It definitely depends on the student for which test they should take. My general belief with standardized testing, is that you should only study for a test where you can become more proficient,” Bednarek said.


So if you feel like you are struggling with the format of one test and you aren’t going to quickly improve, then you might want to focus on the other one. On the other hand, colleges only see the scores that you send in, so you can take both of the tests and only choose to send in the SAT scores if you score badly on the ACT, or vice versa.


“If you’re not confident, then go for both. Then, you can pick which one best represents who you are to send in. If you know who you are and feel confident, then only focus on one. ACT is a good option just because it’s offered free at Tigard High,” Bednarek said.

A student’s decision is really going to depend on their personality in the end and how they take tests best. Focusing on studying and preparing for one test instead of both may help to reduce one’s stress and improve familiarity with the format. “The benefit of taking one test is that students spend their time studying and preparing for one test rather than two,” Falker said.


Here are a few key differences and similarities between the two so you can make a smarter decision on what to study going forward:



-Scale of 1-36

-English, math, reading, and science

-Doesn’t offer math formulas

-No penalties for guessing

-Less time per question

-More geometry on the math section

-Calculator allowed for all math questions

-¼ of your score is math

-5 choices on math (less chance of getting it right when guessing)

-No grid in math questions

-Reading questions aren’t chronological and harder to follow

-Many colleges don’t require the essay and it’s a separate score if you do decide to take it. Four categories are scored from a scale of 1-6 by two different graders: ideas and analysis, development and support, organization, and language use. The scores are then averaged for a total score of 12 in each category and then all those categories are averaged once more for an overall score out of 12.

-Offered free at the school on Feb. 27. If taken at a later date, the cost will be $46 without the essay and $62.50 with the essay.

-Other dates: April 14, June 9, July 14, Sept. 8, Oct. 27, Dec. 8



-Scale of 1600, 800 math 800 reading/writing

-No science section (Science sprinkled throughout in some of the questions)

-Offers math formulas  

-No penalties for guessing

-More time per question

-More algebra and data analysis on the math section

-No calculator allowed for some parts

-Math plays a major role in score – 50 percent of total score

-4 choices on math

-A couple grid in math questions

-Reading questions are chronological and easier to follow

-Many colleges don’t require the essay, which is a separate score if you do decide to take it. There are three categories scored from a scale of 2-8: reading, analysis, and writing.

-$46 to register without essay, $60 with

-Test Dates in 2018: March 10, May 5, June 2, August 25 (anticipated), October 6 (anticipated), November 3 (anticipated), December 1 (anticipated)



Studying for the ACT or SAT might seem like an overwhelming task, but there are plenty of free and paid resources to help you get prepared. Everyone has a different studying technique that works best for them, so it will beneficial if you know beforehand what works well for you and what doesn’t.


“Students need to be self aware: know how they do well under high pressure situations. If they think they are going to be fine, then are going to be alright. But they do need to study if they don’t respond really well under high pressure,” Bednarek said.   


Junior Madelyn Newberry has been studying for the ACT with workbooks. Her main advice to students is: “Just study and stay calm. Remember to take breaks.”


There are a few things to keep in mind when studying. Do you like to use textbooks or watch videos? Do you work best by yourself or in a group? If you need more motivation to study, having a tutor or class could be very helpful although they do tend to be expensive, with tutors costing $30 to $60 an hour and classes costing up to hundreds of dollars. But if you are self-motivated, you probably don’t need to invest in either of these options.


But the most essential thing to do before the ACT or SAT would be to take at least one full practice test, which are available free online. Tigard High also offers the PSAT for juniors and the Pre-ACT for freshmen and sophomores. Taking one or more practice tests will get you accustomed to the types of problems that are going to be on the actual test, and it will be one of the biggest helps in getting prepared. After a practice test, it’s important to score it and reflect on what you did poorly on and what you did well on. Doing this will give you an idea of what you need to focus on in order to get the best score on test day.


“Students can compare scores from these practice tests to determine if one test was a better fit,” Falker said. “Practice test scores present detailed information on where there is room for improvement and growth.”



-Official practice tests – Can be found, taken, and scored for free

Khan Academy offers SAT practice tests and ACT practice tests can be found on the website called Prepscholar

-Classes or tutors (The cost varies on the class and tutor, but can be quite pricey)



-SAT Black Book (My number one overall recommended book for prepping) $28.49

-Reading: Complete Guide to SAT Reading, 3rd Edition $33.20

-Grammar: The Ultimate Guide to SAT Grammar, 4th Edition $30.35 + Workbook $27.50

-Math: Dr. Jang’s SAT 800 Math Workbook for the New SAT 2018 Edition $25.00

-App: Ready4 SAT (free)

-Khan Academy (If you have taken the PSAT, you can connect the scores with Khan Academy and it will give you personalized practice) (Free)



-ACT Black Book (My number one overall recommended book for prepping) $28.49

-Reading: The Complete Guide to ACT Reading, 2nd Edition $28.03

-Grammar: The Complete Guide to ACT English, 2nd Edition $30.39

-Math: ACT Math: The Guide: Skip the Prep Courses $23.74

Science: For the Love of ACT Science: An innovative approach to mastering the science section of the ACT standardized exam $31.46

-App: Ready4 ACT (free)

-ACT Online Prep (costs $39.95, much like Khan Academy, as it gives you personalized practice. Official practice for the ACT)  

(All book prices are from  Amazon)