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The ACT and the SAT are both respected and equally recognized by most universities. Colleges use these scores to compare applicants before offering admission to their university. So, which one should you take? At first glance, it’s hard to see their differences. Let’s take a look at the similarities and differences between the SAT and ACT so you can make the most informed testing decision.
While the SAT and ACT are both standardized exams, they are distinctively different tests that assess a student’s ability and readiness for university. For decades, the SAT and ACT have rivaled each other. The SAT was originally a more psychological test that assesses aptitude for learning, and the ACT, a placement test used as an indicator for academic preparation and achievement.
|Number of Question||215||154|
|Length of Assessment||3 hours 35 minutes||3 hours 15 minutes|
|Sections||Math (Calculator and Non-Calculator), Reading and Writing||Math, Reading, Writing, and Optional Essay|
|Test Dates||Four times per year – March, May, October, and December||Six times per year – February, April, June, July, September, and October|
Universities re-examined SAT and ACT testing when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and testing sites were not available to everyone. The popularity of these tests was already waning, so the pandemic allowed schools to re-evaluate their effectiveness.
With testing options available again, some universities are choosing
However, completing these tests still helps you stand out from other applicants, especially in test-optional applications. Some schools also use the test scores for class placements.
Find out which universities are going test-optional, test-blind, or test-flexible.
Recently, The College Board announced that students can begin taking the SAT online starting in 2023. Significant changes will be made to the SAT as well, including:
For more information on the SAT going digital, read our blog on Everything You Need to Know About the Digital SAT.
While the tests do not contain the same assessments, the SAT and ACT have several similarities, including:
After completing the SAT, you receive a score between 400 and 1600, whereas the ACT scores are between 1 and 36. While these scoring numbers are different, university admissions use a simple conversion chart to compare test scores with other applicants.
|ACT Composite Score||SAT Composite Score|
The ACT has 215 assessment questions compared to the SAT, which has 154 questions. This difference impacts the timing per section for each assessment.
The SAT gives you more time per section, allowing you to spend longer on each question. However, this may be because SAT questions include more writing and require more problem solving, while ACT questions are more straightforward. For example, the SAT’s reading comprehension section allows about 13 minutes per passage. The ACT only gives you about eight minutes per passage.
While both tests cover Math, Reading, and Writing, the ACT also includes a science section. The SAT has an additional non-calculator math section and includes a basic formula page.
Both tests had an optional extended writing section but discontinued this section in June 2021. The ACT now has an optional writing section that includes a prompt. This section allows students to express their personal opinions on a subject and back them up with a convincing argument.
Example ACT Science Questions
The SAT and ACT each have a category that assesses reading skills. However, the SAT includes command of evidence questions. These questions rely on your answer to the questions that precede it. You’re required to identify the text that provides the best evidence for your answer by looking at your answer to the previous question.
Example command of evidence question
Understandably, this is a common question. You want to take the easier test to have a better chance of a high score. Some people argue that the ACT is easier because it adds up to a lower score. Universities use both tests as academic measures to compare students. They are similar in difficulty with a comparable level of challenge. Most colleges will back this up, stating both tests are equally challenging.
If both tests are equally challenging, which one should you take? First, evaluate where your natural abilities lie. In general, students who enjoy writing, literature, and verbal communication tend to prefer the ACT. Those more mathematically-minded prefer the SAT.
The SAT math section is split into one calculator and one non-calculator section, with a math formula guide to assist with the problems. These sections contribute to about 50% of your final SAT score.
The ACT only has a calculator section that accounts for about 25% of the overall score. If math is not your strong point, sitting the ACT may be the better option.
If you’re still unsure which test you should take, try taking a practice test for the SAT and ACT. Compare your scores, how you felt about the questions, and which one felt easier for you.
There’s nothing wrong with taking both tests. While this means you have to study for both tests, it also means you can submit your best score. While you can take the tests more than once, universities discourage taking the test more than three times.
It depends on the university. Many universities in the United States accept either the SAT or the ACT, and some schools do not have a preference for one test over the other. However, there are a few universities that may have a preference for one test, or require one test over the other for admission.
It is important to check with each university to see if they have any specific requirements or recommendations regarding the SAT and ACT. Some schools may require or recommend one test over the other, or may require or recommend that students take certain subject tests in addition to the SAT or ACT.
Additionally, some universities may consider the optional essay section on the SAT or ACT, while others do not. It is important to check with each university to see if they require or recommend the optional essay section.
Ultimately, you should take the test that you feel most comfortable with and can perform your best on, regardless of which test universities may prefer.
Use our free SAT practice test to start preparing for one of the most important tests you’ll ever take!
The key to achieving success in the SAT or ACT is preparation. If you take steps to prepare for the tests, understand each test’s objective, and choose the one that matches your learning and test style, you have the best chances of succeeding.
Read our blog on How to Study for the SAT to gain your best score.
Our SAT/ACT test prep program is developed by Harvard grads, PhDs and top tutors from around the world. Book a free consultation to learn more about how we can help you prepare for the SAT or ACT tests!
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Universities use both tests as academic measures to compare students. They are similar in difficulty with a comparable level of challenge. Most colleges will back this up, stating both tests are equally challenging.
Colleges do not have a preference for one test over another. Students tend to choose a test based on which is popular in their region and their academic learning style.
No, you do not have to take both the SAT and ACT. All schools accept both SAT and ACT scores but only require you to submit one or the other. If you choose to take both the SAT and ACT, you can submit the stronger score in your college application. If you decide only to take one test, select the one geared more towards your strengths and focus your study time on that test.
The SAT originally stood for the “Scholastic Aptitude Test.” As the test evolved, they dropped the name, and it’s now just known as the SAT.
Developed in 1959, the ACT originally stood for “American College Testing.” Over time, they dropped the long name. Now the ACT acronym stands for itself.
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