What is the Difference Between the SAT and the ACT?

The SAT and ACT are standardized tests that colleges reference as part of their admission metrics. Test and college admission experts say that neither test is superior to the other as schools will accept scores from either test interchangeably. It is up to students to determine which of the two tests will reflect their strengths better through solid scores by first reviewing the difference between the SAT and the ACT.

Structure and Content

The ACT is divided into four sections that include math, reading, science and an optional writing component. The test will take three hours and 35 minutes to complete with the writing component included. The SAT consists of 10 sections that include three sub-units each of critical reading, math, writing and an experimental section that is not scored.

The math component of both tests include questions on arithmetic, Algebra I and II and geometry. Trigonometry questions are included in the ACT only. The SAT’s reading component includes reading comprehension and sentence completion questions while ACT eschews the latter. SAT does not include a science component, so it this is your strength as a student, take the ACT to bolster your score. The essay is an optional component of ACT, and the SAT is making it optional in the newer versions of the test.

In the ACT, content areas are arranged together so that testers move from one subject to the next. The SAT is divided into sub-units, and the test is designed so that the sub-units are staggered.

Scoring the Test

Wrong answers are not offset against right answers in both tests. The composite SAT score is the sum of math and reading scores, which could range anywhere from 400 to 1600. In the ACT, scores in each subject will range from 1 to 36, so the composite ACT score will be an average of subject scores. Students can take the tests several times, and you have the option of choosing which set of scores to forward to the colleges of your choice although some colleges may request to see all scores.

Making the Choice

All four-year colleges accept the SAT or ACT scores. However, the SAT is the more popular choice among private colleges and schools in the east and west coasts. The ACT appears to be the more popular choice for public universities, mid-western and southern colleges. Admissions officers examine SAT results based on the detailed content area while ACT results are assessed based on the composite score. The ACT composite score plays up your strength because it is an average of the scores in the four content areas.

Importance of Standardized Tests in College Admissions

The weight placed on test scores as a component of admissions metrics will depend on the college, but it could range from zero to 80 percent according to college admissions experts. Some colleges are test optional. This information is specific to the college and scores may also be used to used to determine merit aid.

Clearly, knowing the difference between the SAT and the ACT will help you make the right decision as to which test is better suited to your unique strengths and personal preferences. Make sure to discuss this issue with your guidance counselor, academic advisor and your parents to help you make the choice that will be most advantageous to you.

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