What are the SAT and ACT?

Welcome to the first post! Here, I’m going to assume you know nothing at all about the SAT, the ACT, and how to prepare for college. I just want to lay a baseline of knowledge for our future articles, just to make sure we’re all on the same page. If you are just starting out learning about the SAT and ACT, this may be a good place to start! So bear with me if I start with some information that is a little too basic.

Let’s start by talking about why we need to take the SAT and ACT in the first place.

College is different from elementary ~ high school

As we all know, from elementary, middle, to high school, we are steered toward the school we must attend by our location, by county or city. However, when it comes to college, the government stops telling you what to do. As far as they’re concerned, you can stop going to school after 12th grade if you want. College is the bonus round–it’s up to you if you want to go, and it’s up to the colleges to decide whether they want to let you go there. (Although nowadays, they say “college is the new high school.” You virtually need a college degree to get any decent job.)

Colleges divided into “levels”

In every state, there are hundreds of colleges to choose from, but some are more prestigious than others. In some ways, various “levels” exist into which you can divide up these colleges. The reason for these distinctions can be due to several factors:

  1. Course quality,
  2. Fame of the professors,
  3. Historical reputation of the college,
  4. Value of the degree for future career,
  5. Sports fame,
  6. Campus design and lifestyle.

The more “high level” colleges can afford to be more picky about who they let in, because more students apply there. These more “in-demand” colleges seek to further develop their value by picking only the smartest or outstanding students.

This is why colleges decided that they needed a reliable way to find the smartest students in America, long ago.

Why not just use the GPA? The birth of the SAT and ACT.

You might ask why don’t colleges just look at students’ grades from high school? They initially did, but, eventually decided that they wanted a system that wasn’t biased by what state or city your were from.

To fill that need, a company named the College Board came up with the SAT in 1923. (more here) For almost forty years, the SAT was the only test you could take to apply to college.

In 1959, the ACT appeared as a contender in the world of college entrance exams, providing American students with two choices when applying to college. While the SAT was still dominant for many decades, the ACT gradually increased its influence and has actually overtaken the SAT “the test to take” as of 2012.

College Admissions Today

Today, colleges look at a wide variety of factors when deciding whether you are good enough for their college, but they value two things the most: First, they look at your GPA, and then, secondly, at your SAT and ACT scores. They also look at your extracurricular activities, teacher recommendations, and your college essay. For more detailed information about the College Admissions decision process, read our article here.

So the SAT and ACT are a big deal, and you must take one or the other if you plan on applying to a decent college.

Next: What’s the difference between the SAT and the ACT?

or How seriously should you take the SAT and ACT?