Last Updated: March 15, 2021
SAT vs ACT
The SAT and ACT are two exams popularly taken by high school students seeking admission into a university. Each exam evaluates student's general knowledge in several areas and their readiness for university studies. While each exam is slightly different and offers slight advantages, there are a few differences that might aid candidates in deciding which exam is best for them.
Both the exams have common sections including Reading, Writing, and Math even though their approach to these sections is slightly different. The decision to choose between ACT and SAT also depends on other factors like whether the student had taken a PreACT or PSAT which will require them to attempt ACT or SAT respectively.
Why Take the ACT?
In the ACT exam
, the questions tend to be straightforward and easy to understand, although the answers may still be quite challenging to come by. Additionally, for those who are weak in math, the ACT does not require them to produce answers, but instead it offers multiple-choice options throughout. Students who are strong in science may like the chance to show their skills in the science section. Finally, the ACT is known overall for being a more straight-forward assessment of one's knowledge and doesn't evaluate one's critical thinking skills.
Why Take the SAT?
While the question phrasing in the SAT might be challenging compared to the ACT, quite often the answers are still quite simple. Questions increase in difficulty progressively, which is good for students who have trouble warming up, or are confused by questions that appear easier than they are, in the ACT the difficulty level is random. Students taking the SAT will be provided with math formulas in their test booklet, and students who are weak in science will not have to complete a science section like in the ACT. Finally, the SAT also offers subjects tests that may be required by the school that has been chosen, especially Ivy League schools, and taking these exams can improve the candidate’s potential for being admitted into a school.
Similarities Between ACT and SAT
- Both the exams are conducted for high school students who wish to continue with their education.
- They assess critical skills like problem-solving, language proficiency, and reading comprehension.
- They contain similar sections with similar patterns except for the additional Science section in the ACT.
- Both the exams have an optional essay section the score of which is not always calculated with the final score.
- The questions asked in the Math section are of a basic level in both the exams and pertains to the sections of Algebra and Trigonometry that students have learned till high school.
Differences Between ACT and SAT
- SAT focuses more on reasoning, while the ACT has more emphasis on subjects.
- SAT is conducted 7 times/yr, ACT is conducted 6 times/year.
- SAT has 154 questions whereas ACT has 215 questions.
- ACT is conducted within a time frame of 2 hours and 55 minutes without the essay and a total of 3 hours and 35 minutes with the essay. The SAT on the other hand can be completed within 3 hours without the essay and 3 hours and 50 minutes with the essay.
- Students will get lesser time per question in ACT than SAT due to the number of questions asked and the time allotted in all. So, looking at the overall time provided will not be an adequate measure of the difficulty of the test since the number of questions provided is almost the same for both tests.
- The Act has 4 sections namely Reading, English, Math, and Science whereas the four sections of SAT are Reading, Writing, Math with a calculator, and Math without a calculator. The absence of Science often makes students opt for SAT.
- The Reading section of both the exams may seem similar but ACT offers an easier level of questions when SAT can provide questions from different difficulty levels. The scoring will be scaled depending on the difficulty of the questions a student receives making the grading fair for all.
- Students are allowed to use a calculator for the entire Math section in ACT but the use of calculators is restricted for SAT exams. Only one math section is allowed the use of a calculator in SAT.
- ACT provides only multiple-choice questions in the Math section which provides the candidate with a higher chance of getting the right answer. Sat exam, on the other hand, provides only 80% of multiple-choice questions and another 20% of grid-in questions where students will have to fill in the answers in the space provided.
Which Test is Required by the School?
First and foremost, both exams are accepted by nearly every four-year university, but some exams are more typically taken in certain parts of the country or for particular types of schools. The SAT is more popular with private schools and west and east coast schools. The ACT, on the other hand, is more popular in the Midwest and south. Research shows that the same student is likely to have comparable results on either exam, so candidates who are still undecided, can take a few practice exams and see which one works best for their skills and test-taking style.
Finally, a few things to consider are testing times and registration deadlines. The SAT can be registered a little closer to the testing date, with the registration deadline only four weeks before the exam, so if one has forgotten to register early, they will have more leeway with the SAT, whereas the ACT requires registering five to six weeks in advance. Both exams are frequently offered, six or seven times a year, and at many times of the year, aside from December, January, and June, the tests are offered in alternating months, so if all else fails, take both exams at different times of the year.
Ultimately, the most important factors to base your decision on are which exam will best reflect the candidate’s abilities and which exam is most popularly taken for admission into their school of choice. After weighing one’s strengths, their school's preferences, and possibly taking a few practice exams, make the decision and practice with that study guide because in either case, the most important thing one can do is to be well-prepared so that the scores are the best they can be.
Choosing one test- SAT vs ACT
The only way in which a student can choose between the two exams is to identify their strengths and weaknesses based on their performance in school. Leaving out factors like the distance to the test center, the approaching deadlines, etc. one can have a practical approach while choosing between the tests.
- Fast readers and mathematical wizards can choose for ACT since the exam offers more questions and provides less time to attempt them. The test also does not resort to complicated questions which makes direct calculation easy.
- Students who are not interesting in Science or in interpreting data ought to opt for SAT since even though the Science section offered by ACT isn’t tough it isn’t worth preparing a subject without liking it per se and especially when it can be avoided by learning more Math and attempting SAT instead.
- If the candidate is comfortable solving even basic mathematical problems with a calculator, they should opt for ACT since SAT has an entire section of basic math that has to be calculated without a calculator.
Candidates can always choose to write both the exams if the cost will not be a burden to them. Attempting both the exams will leave those in the selection panels of colleges no choice but to take in the student committed to education as long as the candidate has scored a decent grade. Some universities prefer to see both the grades though it isn’t mandatory so that they can judge the ability of the student without having to convert grades and assess accordingly. But this is all subjective in nature since if the student has already attempted PreACT or PSAT they will be required to take the ACT or SAT respectively to earn more scholarships in college.