Why International Students Should Consider Switching to ACT Prep this Year

As many of you may know, the College Board recently cancelled the June 2017 international SAT administration in response to fears about test security and recent cheating incidents. They also announced that they are reducing the number of international test dates to four for the 2017-2018 academic year. While SAT Subject Tests are still available internationally this June, the College Board’s abrupt announcement has left many international students in a difficult situation. If you are an international student who was planning to take the June SAT, you have several options:

  1. You can take the SAT in May. The May 6th, 2017 test date is still being offered internationally. The registration deadline for this test date is April 7th. However, the SAT is not being offered internationally again until October of 2017.
  2. If possible, you can travel to the United States to take the SAT. In addition to the test dates previously mentioned, there are June, August, and November test dates in the United States. For more information on U.S. and international test dates, see our recent blog post.
  3. You can switch your preparation from the SAT to the ACT. The ACT is being offered internationally in April, June, September, October, and December.

The final option may seem extreme, but most students should at least consider switching their prep to the ACT. The main advantage is that there are more opportunities to take the exam internationally over the course of 2017. This will allow students who plan to apply to universities in the fall of 2017 more opportunities to get a satisfactory score. There are certainly differences between the two exams, but with the right outlook and support, most students should be able to transition from the SAT to the ACT relatively easily.

A look at the differences between the SAT and ACT

female indian university student using laptop in lecture room

The first difference that a student who is considering switching to the ACT should consider is the addition of a Science section to the ACT. While the other three sections of the ACT are fairly similar to the sections of the SAT, the Science section is a definite outlier. It’s important to note that the ACT Science section does not actually test your recall of science knowledge. Instead, students are given the results of scientific experiments and studies and asked to answer questions about them. Even a student who has never studied biology, physics, or chemistry could theoretically get a perfect score on the ACT Science section. Remember those SAT Reading passages that include supplemental charts and graphs at the end of them? Some of the Reading questions ask only about the information in the supplemental material or ask you to combine that information with what was written in the passage. That’s sort of what the ACT Science passages are like. However, all things equal, scientific fluency is useful on this section. Therefore, students who feel comfortable in the sciences will be better suited to make the switch from the SAT to ACT.

Even a student who has never studied biology, physics, or chemistry could theoretically get a perfect score on the ACT Science section.

Another factor to consider is that the ACT does not have a Non-Calculator Math section. There are 60 math questions that cover a broad array of topics, but you are allowed to use your calculator on all of them. During your SAT prep, did you find yourself doing well on the calculator section but poorly on the non-calculator section? Do you feel comfortable working through most problems but the idea of multiplying 12 times 9 in your head seems daunting? The ACT may very well be a better option for you.

Applying SAT concepts to the ACT

Several groupmates carrying out written task or writing lecture

If you decide that you do want to switch to the ACT, you’ll want to consider how you can best translate what you’ve learned on the SAT and apply it to the ACT.

Let’s take a look at a few tips, starting in the SAT Writing and Language and ACT English sections. On paper, these two sections look fairly similar in their format and content. Both give you medium-length passages and require you to intermittently answer questions dealing with punctuation, word choice, organization, and other common grammar rules. The biggest difference between the two sections is that the ACT requires you to work more quickly (75 questions in 45 minutes) than does the SAT (44 questions in 35 minutes). In the official instructions to these sections, both the SAT and the ACT advise students to read the entire passage before answering questions. On the ACT, this is simply not practical for most students. 

Instead, get in the habit of completing questions as you read, and move on quickly once you’re done. With 75 total questions, you shouldn’t be too worried about any particular question, and taking too much time on the earlier questions can leave you unable to finish the section. A second difference between the two sections is that the ACT focuses slightly more on punctuation than the SAT does, particularly comma usage. A good overall tip for the ACT English section is this: choose short, simple answer choices with as little punctuation as possible.

There are also differences in the Reading sections. There are always four ACT Reading passages from four categories that are presented in the same order (Fiction, Social Science, Humanities, Natural Science). Therefore, students who tend to struggle to finish all of the passages generally have an easier time deciding where they should spend most of their time working (i.e. on their strongest passage types). And while the ratio of number of questions to time allotted per section is similar, the passages on the ACT tend to be longer and do not contain supplementary information in the form of graphs or tables. Many SAT Reading questions require you to return to the passage and re-read, but on the ACT, you should get in the habit of answering as many questions as possible from your memory. At ArborBridge, our tutors are trained to help you identify the common characteristics of correct (and incorrect) answer choices, across all different question and passage types. With help, you will become an expert at eliminating wrong answer choices, choosing the best answer, and moving on to the next question without wasting time re-reading the passage.

Check out our post, How to Avoid Running out of Time on the ACT Reading Section

Finally, besides the lack of a non-calculator section, there are differences in the ACT Math section. As with the SAT, the questions do increase in difficulty throughout the section, but they tend to be more straightforward and require less time to read and process. As a result, the primary factor that influences your ACT Math score is content knowledge. Through analyzing dozens of past ACT exams, we have identified the types of questions that tend to show up most on the ACT. We will identify your weakest content areas in math (ex: graphing trigonometric functions, factoring polynomials, solving probability questions, etc.), rank them in order of their likelihood to re-appear on a future exam, and strengthen them with specific lessons.

Check out our post, How to Identify Relevant Geometry Equations in ACT Math

The College Board’s recent decision has not made life easy for international students. For those who decide that switching to the ACT is best, don’t feel overwhelmed! Most of what you practiced for the SAT applies in some way to the ACT. With a little help, and by following the general principles outlined in this article, you’ll be able to realize a similarly impressive score on the ACT.

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About Owen

Owen earned a B.A.from the University of Pennsylvania, where he majored in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. Owen has experience tutoring in a variety of academic areas, but he specializes in the SAT, ACT, and GRE, as well as Math and Physics SAT Subject Tests. His background and test prep experience bring a valuable component to ArborBridge’s curriculum and program development team.

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