High school students are constantly bombarded with conflicting advice about what they need to do before applying to colleges and universities. One of the biggest and most confusing decisions is whether to take the ACT vs SAT test, or both.
Any student knows that their parents will suggest one test and teachers in their school will suggest the other. Then, there is always a third person saying you must take both or no college will want you. Even though we can all assume that isn’t quite true, it can be hard to determine if you will need an ACT score or an SAT score. That’s why we are here to help.
What Is the ACT?
The ACT test is used for college admissions. Students who take the ACT will be scored in five subtests. There is a reading section, a writing section, a science section, a math section, and an English section.
Even though each section is considered a subtest, they are all taken on the same testing day with short breaks in between sections. When taking this test, students must demonstrate their abilities and knowledge learned throughout their high school years.
The writing section is an optional part of the ACT, as certain colleges only look for test scores in the other areas. All of the sections of the ACT, except the writing section, consist of multiple-choice questions. The writing sections, as the name suggests, involves writing an essay based upon the given prompt. The sections are all scored within the range of one to 36, with 36 being a perfect score.
After taking the ACT you will receive a breakdown of the individual section scores and a composite score. The composite score is the average score of the four multiple-choice tests rounded up, and the writing section remains a separate score.
Oftentimes, high schools will provide study materials and pre-ACT tests for students to begin using as early as their sophomore or junior year.
What Is the SAT?
The SAT test is also designed to test you on everything learned in high school. On the SAT test, students take a reading test, a writing and language test, a math test, as well as an SAT essay test that is optional.
All questions on the SAT test are meant to address issues in the real-world to help prepare students for their careers. Even the math questions include many word problems that describe situations students may run into in the future. While each section of the SAT is scored individually, all of the scores will come together to create a composite score that lies within the range of 400 to 1,600.
The reading test and language and writing test come together for a score of 200 to 800. In the math section, you can earn a score of 200 to 800 as well and the optional SAT essay test is scored three times on a scale of two to eight. The higher the score the better on the SAT, meaning the closer you get to a 1,600, the better off you are.
It is becoming a bit more common for colleges to prefer the ACT over the SAT, but many colleges do still require an SAT score to be accepted.
SAT vs ACT: The Key Differences
Both the ACT and the SAT are tests high school students take and provide to colleges and universities. So, what is the difference? Well, for starters, the SAT and ACT are scored differently. As we went over already, the ACT is scored on a scale of one to 36 while the SAT is scored on a scale of 400 to 1,600. Both tests are scored based on correct answers only, meaning you will not be penalized for wrong answers.
The biggest difference between the ACT and the SAT is their content. The ACT is the only test with a science section and the questions are a bit different. While the SAT focuses on creating test questions that apply to the real world, the ACT focuses on simply creating questions. That is to say, the ACT questions are really only there to provide a score while the SAT questions are designed to help students continue to learn.
Differences can be found within the test sections as well. In the math section on the ACT, questions cover geometry, trigonometry, probability, and statistics. On the other hand, the SAT math section covers geometry, trigonometry, and data analysis. The ACT test does not allow the use of calculators at all, while the SAT math test is divided into one section allowing calculator use and one that does not.
The time it takes to complete the tests is the last big difference between the two. The SAT gives students three hours for the test and an additional 50 minutes for the optional essay portion, while the ACT allows three hours for the test and an additional 40 minutes for the optional essay. Each section is timed differently as well, with students being given an additional 30 minutes on the SAT reading section than the ACT, and the SAT math section taking 80 minutes rather than the ACT test’s 60 minutes.
ACT vs SAT: Which Test Should You Take?
If you are trying to decide which test to take, there are a few things to consider. The most important factor is determining which colleges you intend to apply to and what their requirements are. Some colleges require one specific test, while others are a bit more lenient and accept either.
Assuming your college choices will accept either an ACT or an SAT score, the other determining factors are availability and preference. Choosing the test that is most easily available to you can relieve the stress of finding a nearby testing center.
Remember, ensuring the test you take is your preference can drastically improve your score. Whichever test you choose, be sure to include plenty of test prep by studying hard and taking practice tests to ensure the best possible score.