ACT vs. SAT
Are you facing the registration deadlines, feeling pressured to choose, and
wondering which is better? Relax! The reality is that neither test is superior
to the other.
The decision of which one to take may be
determined simply by whatever admission criteria is laid out by your school of
choice. However, if the school doesn’t specify which test they want, making the
“best” choice doesn’t have to be difficult.
Although there is no hard science that proves
that the ACT or SAT is easier, you probably want to determine which test format
is better suited to your strengths. Each test has different emphases and
familiarity with their individual structures may help you sort out which is
better suited to you.
Take a look at the following comparison of
the ACT and SAT to help you decide.
About the ACT
sports four trademark multiple-choice subject tests covering English,
Math, Reading, and Science. These are designed to evaluate your overall
educational development and your ability to complete college-level work. You’ll
have 2 hours and 55 minutes of dedicated test time to complete the subject
tests, not including breaks.
As far as scoring goes, your subject test
scores (ranging from 1 to 36) are determined after throwing out any incorrect
answers — only correct responses count! The four areas are then averaged
together to come up with your overall, or composite, score.
The ACT also includes an optional 30-minute
writing test designed to measure your skill in planning and writing a short
essay. This segment is your chance to highlight your writing skills! If you opt
to take it, the additional scores will be reported, along with comments about
your essay. These scores are reported separately.
So, if writing is a weak area, you might want
to take the ACT and skip the writing section, since it’s currently optional
(although some schools require it). If writing is your strength, having extra
kudos passed on to your choice schools may benefit you.
About the SAT
looking at the SAT in comparison to the ACT, a clear difference is that
the SAT is designed to evaluate your general thinking and problem-solving
abilities. It kicks things off with a required 25-minute essay. This is
the start to the Writing section, which you’ll complete in addition to the
Critical Reading and Math sections. The SAT differs from the ACT in terms of
the amount of time you’ll have to complete it (3 hours and 5 minutes) and the
format in which you provide your answers.
Similar to the ACT, the SAT has
multiple-choice areas, but it also has a part in the Math section where you’ll
be required produce your answers — no chance of guessing from a set of
choices here! And unlike the ACT, the SAT doles out a slight penalty for wrong
answers on the multiple choice questions (but not on the student-produced
When considering the ACT vs. the SAT, keep in
mind that both tests allot ample time for completion, but the SAT has
fewer questions — 140 compared to the 215 on the ACT. The SAT also focuses
heavily on vocabulary, while the ACT hones in on grammar and punctuation.
SAT Subject Tests
The SAT also provides you with the chance to take Subject Tests. A few schools
may require you to take some of these tests as additional requirements to your
admission application. It’s possible you won’t need to take any, but you may
want to consider it if you have strengths in particular areas. All of your
scores from these additional tests will be reported, whether they were required
If you’re concerned that your scores on the
required SAT sections may be less than stellar, consider registering for
additional Subject Tests in areas that can demonstrate your skills in specific
subjects like English, history, mathematics, science, and various languages.
ACT or SAT: It all depends on
of their differences, neither test is more likely than the other to produce a
great score. In fact, when viewing a comparison of the ACT and SAT, the vast
majority of students perform comparably on both tests.
You may not even need to think in terms of
ACT vs. SAT. If the colleges you're interested in accept scores from either
test, you may want to consider taking both admissions tests. Each one tests you
in a different way, so you might opt to take both to see which one you perform
However, if you’re short on time and money
and want to put your efforts towards preparing for only one of the tests, your
best bet is to take a few practice exams. There are free and low-cost
practice exams available electronically and in-print.
If you’re undecided about taking the ACT or
SAT, you may feel more strongly about one or the other once you become familiar
with the format of both. You can then evaluate your test performance before
heading off for the real thing.