SAT vs. ACT: which should I take?

The SAT and ACT are both tests taken by students in the United States preparing for college. Generally, more students on East Coast and West Coast of the United States take the SAT and more students in the Midwest and mountain states opt for the ACT. While historically the SAT has been seen as the standard test for college entry, the ACT is now recognized by all four-year colleges in the US. The majority of colleges and universities will accept either test, but students with specific colleges in mind may want to consult that college’s admissions office when deciding which test to take.

While the two tests differ somewhat in format and material, each is designed to gauge students’ skills and knowledge. Being well informed about the tests will help students to decide which test to take before they begin their SAT Preparation or ACT Preparation plan.

Subject Areas

The ACT is based more on curriculum that students have learned in school whereas the SAT is designed more to test critical thinking and reasoning skills. The ACT is a multiple choice test that covers English, mathematics, reading, and science. The ACT Writing Test is an optional section in which test takers must plan and write a short essay. The SAT begins with a required essay section. It is then made up of writing, critical reading, and math sections. While the SAT has multiple choice sections, some of the math questions will require test takers to produce answers on their own.

Logistics

The ACT is administered on six national testing dates in the United States. Students may take the test up to twelve times total and only once on each testing date. The SAT is offered seven times each year in the US. Students may take the SAT as many times as they wish, but all scores will be visible to colleges. Not including instructions and breaks, the ACT takes two hours and 55 minutes and the SAT takes three hours and 45 minutes.

Scoring

ACT scores are determined by adding up the correct answers in each section. Scores for each section range from 1-36 and the results are averaged to produce a final score. Incorrect answers do not count against the final score. On the SAT, however, incorrect multiple choice answers receive a small penalty. Each correct answer receives one point and each incorrect answer deducts one-fourth of a point. Scores for each section are on a scale of 200-800. A perfect score on the SAT is 2400 points and a perfect score on the ACT is 36.

Preparation

ACT Preparation and SAT Preparation are critical to success on both tests. Taking the predictive tests, the PSAT and PLAN, can help students prepare for the actual test’s format. Preparation courses and practice tests are the best way of determining trouble areas and helping students enter the test prepared and confident.


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