SAT, ACT, Common Core

Quick Term Cheat Sheet:

SAT – formerly an aptitude test, now an achievement test, tomorrow??

ACT – Achievement test

Common Core – The curriculum designed to make sure US kids cover some body of knowledge relevant to our future.

“It is time for an admissions assessment that makes it clear that the road to success is not last-minute tricks or cramming but the challenging learning students do every day,” David Coleman, College Board (also architect of Common Core Standards).


The recent announcements around the SAT appear to be responding to the ACT surge of the past decade. The ACT has recently edged out the SAT for number of annual test takers. It has been unofficially marketed as easier to master than the SAT and has gained a foothold. Some students will do better on the ACT than the SAT, because the ACT is an achievement test. In other words, the ACT has a closer relationship to existing state standards – what you’ve covered in school so far. The SAT in contrast has been intended to be a test of your relatively raw thinking skills. The raw skills you will need in order to do well in college. And proportedly the raw skills that are not hindered by socioeconomic challenges.

In brief, if you consider different neighborhoods, you can imagine where problems bubble up.

Test Prep BooksThe ACT has a Science section. Any college prep program and school will have the necessary lessons. Not every public school has the necessary Science teachers to provide those lessons. They aren’t testing you on science as much as on your ability to understand concepts presenting in passages much like reading comprehension. Unfortunately, this can make the science portion particularly intimidating to those who have less exposure to more scientific vocabulary.

The SAT also has its demographic detractors. With a heavier emphasis on critical thinking, students who are not regularly exposed to healthy debate and critical evaluation must seek out challenge-conversation partners.

From a business perspective (K-12 education is $138B market), the SAT is changing so they don’t lose more ground to the ACT. My hope is that the SAT pulls back from the race down to the Common Core and remains an independent test to indicate readiness for 4-year colleges. Otherwise, they will open the market for a new test to be developed so top tier institutions will have an impartial test they can trust as one facet in the admission process.

The Common Core was developed to indicate that a student was ready to move on to a 2-yr or 4-yr institution or move into the workforce. The SAT was built to demonstrate readiness for 4-year colleges. The changes to the SAT appear substantial and in some ways – removing more abstruse vocabulary words – move the test down to a level that matches the objectives for the Common Core. But, the SAT retains the right to test on mathematic subjects that are beyond the scope of the Common Core so there’s no reason to think the SAT is completely gutting itself.

The SAT can be a strong indicator of freshman year performance, but it is only one factor. Schools use multiple factors when selecting candidates. In response to the shift of who and how many are going to college (broader demographics and far more students), the SAT has tried to please a much broader range and run into challenges as they reach past the original control group for the test.

The ACT, first given in 1959, is more of an achievement test, measuring what a student has learned in school. The SAT, which was created in 1926, has traditionally been an aptitude test, testing reasoning and verbal abilities.

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