What is the Difference Between the ACT and the SAT?


If you’re preparing for college admissions, you might be curious about the difference between the ACT and the SAT. While both are standardized tests that colleges and universities use as a benchmark when making admissions decisions, there are some differences. Read on for a guide that will help you determine whether you should take the SAT or ACT as you get ready to apply to college.

The SAT has a Stronger Vocabulary Focus, While the ACT Tests Advanced Math and Science

Vocabulary is weighted much more strongly on the SAT than it is on the ACT, with many questions designed to take several reads to understand. On the other hand, the ACT includes a science section designed to test reading and reasoning skills, and tests higher level math than the SAT (trigonometry as well as the basic arithmetic, algebra I and II, and geometry are tested on the SAT). If you have a strong academic preference for language over math and science or vice versa, that may help you decide which test to take.

The ACT is Shorter

If you have trouble focusing for a long period of time, you may consider the ACT, which lasts two hours and 55 minutes compared to the three hours and 45 minutes of the SAT. In addition, research suggests that students with learning disabilities tend to do better on the ACT. Also, the writing section on the ACT is optional, while it’s required on the SAT, which may feed into your decision depending on how strong of a writer you are.

The SAT is More Complex

The ACT is a straightforward content test, which may make it easier for students who are familiar with the content tested. The SAT focuses on logic and reasoning rather than content, which might make it a better bet for students who do well with puzzles and are willing to learn SAT-specific strategies to raise their scores.

Scoring Differences

The SAT is scored on a scale of 600 to 2400, with a score of 200 to 800 possible on each of the three sections. The ACT is scored with a composite of one to 36 based on average scores from the four test sections, each of which is also scored from one to 36. On the SAT, you get one quarter of a point subtracted from your score for each wrong answer, with no penalty for questions left blank; the ACT scores only those questions which you answer correctly, with no penalty for wrong answers. When you take practice tests, remember to compare your score to the national percentiles to get a sense of which test you perform better on.

Learn more about the SAT and ACT on their official websites. Most four-year colleges in the United States accept both ACT and SAT scores. In making your decision, one strategy is to take practice tests for both and choose to take the test on which you score better and with which you’re more comfortable. The difference between the ACT and the SAT is most important when considering which test will give you the best possible results.

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