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Comparing the SAT and the ACT

Nov 27

While students have a choice of which test they would prefer to take, it’s a good idea to look at the particulars of each to make an informed decision.  Depending on the student, eat test could highlight different strengths and weaknesses.  Here are some basic comparisons of the two tests.

While the SAT is a reasoning test, the ACT is a content-based test.  The test format breaks down like this:

SAT

  • Critical Reading is broken down into two 25 minute sections and one 20 minute section
  • Math is broken down into two 25 minute sections and one 20 minute section
  • Writing includes one 25 minute essay, one 25 minute section and one 10 minute section.

ACT

  • English covers one 45 minute section
  • Math covers one 60 minute section
  • Reading covers one 35 minute section
  • Science covers one 35 minute section
  • The optional Writing section is one 30 minute essay

The SAT covers reading, vocabulary, grammar and usage, writing and math.

The ACT covers grammar and usage, math, reading, science reasoning, and writing (which is optional)

The questions on the SAT require careful reading and attention to detail as the answer can sometimes be tricky in the way that they are phrased.  Questions on the ACT are long, but are straightforward and generally easier to follow.

Scoring Ranges

Scoring Ranges for the SAT

  • Math, Critical Reading and Writing: Scores range between 200 to 800 in each section
  • The total possible score ranges for the SAT are between 600 and 2400
  • ¼ of a point is deducted for incorrect answers except for certain math questions

Scoring Ranges for the ACT

  • English, Math, Reading, and Science: Scores range between 1-36
  • The Composite ACT score takes an average the scores on the four sections
  • No points are deducted for incorrect answers

Both the SAT and ACT allow you to choose which set of scores to provide to colleges.

In terms of difficulty, questions on the SAT increase in difficulty through the section.  However, with the reading section, questions progress chronologically.  For the ACT, the difficulty of the questions is random.

What math levels are covered?

SAT:  The SAT math section covers: arithmetic, data analysis, algebra I and II, functions, and geometry.  The test booklet provides formulas.

ACT:  The ACT math section covers arithmetic, algebra I and II, functions, geometry, trigonometry.  No formulas are provided in the test booklet.

Every four year college in the United States accepts both the SAT and the ACT.  The SAT tends to be more popular with private schools as well as schools on both coasts.  The ACT tends to be more popular with public schools and with schools located in the Midwest.

Frequency of testing?

The SAT is offered seven times per year:  January, March or April, May, June, October, November and December.

The ACT is offered six times per year:  February, April, June, September, October and December.  The ACT is offered by some states as part of their regular testing requirements.  Those states offer the ACT on dates other than the national testing dates.

When to register?

You need to register for the SAT by about four weeks before the preferred test date and for the ACT about five or six weeks prior to testing.

For more information?

SAT: www.collegeboard.com

ACT:  www.act.org

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