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SAT or ACT - Which Test is Best for You?

Standardized tests are a necessary part of the college application process. Due to the growing popularity of the ACT most colleges will accept either the SAT or the ACT. Understanding how these two college entrance exams differ can help you decide which test suits you best.

How They Differ

Both the ACT and SAT are designed to predict your readiness for college, but they do so in different ways. The SAT is essentially a “reasoning” test that evaluates your critical-thinking skills. By contrast, the ACT is curriculum based; it tests your knowledge. The ACT covers four areas: English, math, reading and science. The writing section is optional, perhaps making it preferable to someone who is a weak writer. The SAT tests on critical reading, math and writing.

The SAT has an extensive vocabulary section, while the ACT focuses on grammar. The ACT tests trigonometry, while the SAT does not. The ACT is entirely multiple choice (except for the optional writing section). The SAT has math questions which you must fill in a numerical response grid. You get penalized for wrong answers on the SAT but there is no penalty for guessing on the ACT.

The SAT takes longer to complete. You get 3hours and 45 minutes to take it, compared to the 2 hours and 55 minutes for the ACT.

The SAT and ACT are scored differently. Each SAT section (math, critical reading and writing) is graded between 200-800, and then added together for a maximum perfect score of 2400. On the ACT, students earn between 1 and 36 on each section (reading, math, English and science) with the composite score being the average of those numbers.

Which test is best for you?

There is no easy answer. Some students preform noticeably better on one test or the other and many score comparably on both. Many students opt to take both. The advantage being that they will know where to focus their energy if they want to retake one.

Practice, practice, practice

Both the SAT and ACT are unlike any test that you have ever taken. The more familiar and comfortable you are with the format the more successful you will be.

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