Today, all four year colleges accept either the ACT or the SAT, with no preference for one over the other, and some students submit scores from both. The ACT has grown in popularity, and now roughly the same percentage of students take the ACT as the SAT. What test should you prep for? What’s the difference?
Here’s a quick breakdown:
ACT: 215 questions divided into 4 sections (English, Math, Reading, Science); 205 minutes long including optional 30 minute writing section
SAT: 170 questions divided into 10 sections (3 Critical Reading, 3 Math, 3 Writing, 1 experimental section not counted into the score); 225 minutes long.
SAT is longer, so fidgety students may prefer the ACT, but the ACT requires students to move very quickly through the test, so slower readers may prefer the SAT.
Types of Questions
ACT: More straightforward questions based on content knowledge (in grammar, usage & math); difficulty level of questions is random
SAT: Trickier, more logic-based questions; questions get more difficult as you move through each section (with the exception of chronological reading passages)
If you are a very bright underachiever, the SAT may be a better test for you as it focuses less on content knowledge and more on aptitude and reasoning. If you study hard well in advance to earn high marks, the ACT may be a better fit as much of it is based on content knowledge that can be memorized.
ACT: No penalty for incorrect answers.
SAT: ¼ point off for incorrect answers. No points off for blank answers.
ACT: Includes a science reasoning section mostly based on ability to interpret data.
SAT: Does not include a science section.
Keep in mind that usually only one question in the ACT science section is based on previous knowledge in science. It's mostly interpreting data,so students who score well in reading comprehension often also earn high marks in ACT science.
ACT: Math through trigonometry with no formulas provided (a bit tougher).
SAT: Math through Algebra II with formulas provided.
ACT: Optional (30 minutes) and not factored into the score, although most schools prefer to see it. It’s usually a high interest persuasive essay question.
SAT: Required (25 minutes at the beginning of the test), and usually asks for examples from literature and history.
ACT: Tests more usage, grammar and rhetorical skills, and questions are more intuitive (which sentence sounds right?).
SAT: Requires an excellent knowledge of vocabulary and word roots.
ACT: 36 possible points
SAT: 2400 possible points (200-800 points per section)
Experts recommend taking a full length practice test of each exam to see which feels better. If you think you’ll do better on one, and it feels better for you, go with that test.
Both the ACT and the SAT allow score choice, meaning you choose which scores to send to schools, and students are allowed to take both tests; however, most find it much less stressful to focus on preparing for one.
Studies show a strong correlation between formal one-on-one test prep with a tutor and increased scores, so make time for study and test prep prior to the test as often possible! Daily practice, the number of full-length practice tests taken prior to the test, and working with an expert to refine practice and work through problems all significantly impact student test scores.
Great scores aren't all that matter in terms of getting into your dream school, but they can make a huge difference in at least making the first cut, so pick a test, make a study schedule, and study hard!