You might be wondering how to decide between taking the SAT or ACT. Pretty much all colleges will accept either test, so the decision of which to take depends on your personal preference. As you think about preparing for the SAT or ACT, keep some of these important differences in mind.
Sections. The SAT has 3 sections: Critical Reading, Math, and Writing. The ACT has 4 sections: English, Math, Reading, and Science Reasoning. The ACT also has an optional Writing section, which some colleges will require you to take.
Content. The SAT is designed to test critical reasoning and thinking skills, while the ACT is designed to test curricular knowledge (what you learn in school). The math on the SAT goes up to Algebra II, while the math on the ACT goes up to Trigonometry.
Length. Both the SAT and ACT are long tests, but the SAT is just a bit longer. The SAT takes 3 hours and 45 minutes, including a 25 minute experimental section (you won’t know which one it is, though, so you have to take it). The ACT is 3 hours and 25 minutes, including the optional Writing section.
Number of Questions. The ACT has more questions than the SAT. There are 215 multiple choice questions on the ACT, and 1 optional essay prompt. The SAT has 170 questions (most of which will be multiple choice with a few fill-in questions), and 1 essay prompt.
Structure. On the ACT, you take one section at a time. You complete the entire English section, followed by Math, then Reading, then Science, and finally, the Writing Section. On the SAT, Math, Critical Reading, and Writing are divided into shorter subsections, and you will jump around between subjects. You might take a subsection of Critical Reading, then a subsection of Math, a subsection of Writing, and then back to Math or Critical Reading.
Scoring. On the SAT, you’re given a score between 200 and 800 in each section. The sum of your scores in all three sections is your total score. On the ACT, you’re given a score between 1 and 36 in each section (except for the Writing subscore, which is out of 12). The average of your scores in each section is your Composite score. The Writing subscore is noted separately.
Additional Scoring Information. On the ACT, you gain points for each correct answer, but you don’t lose points for incorrect or blank answers. On the SAT, you gain points for each correct answer, no points are deducted for blank answers, but you do lose ¼ of a point for incorrect answers (except for the fill-in math questions, where there are no points deducted for incorrect answers).
It’s up to you to decide if you want to take the SAT or ACT, which means you need to determine which one is best for you. Being familiar with the structure and content of the tests is important, but before you decide, be sure to take a practice test in each. With a little research and a couple of practice tests, you’ll be in a strong position to decide between the SAT and ACT.
*NOTE* The SAT is changing and will be in a new format starting March 2016. You can read about the changes here.