While the SAT and ACT are very different tests, they both fulfill the same role in the admissions process. The SAT and ACT are designed to provide college admissions officers with two things: a predictor of first-year academic achievement in college, and a common yardstick to use in comparing students from a wide range of educational backgrounds.
The ACT was traditionally required by colleges in the mid-west, and the SAT was the test of choice in the northeast and on the east and west coasts. But now an increasing number of students are taking the ACT, and the majority of schools in the United States now accept both SAT or ACT test results. Here are some of the factors that make the SAT and ACT very different breeds:
Admissions officers and educators often describe the difference between SAT and ACT in these terms: the ACT is a content-based test, where-as the SAT tests critical thinking and problem solving. In fact, this contrast isn't exactly watertight. Many questions on the ACT test critical thinking, and there is a predictable range of material that's tested on the SAT. But the SAT and ACT reward different attributes, so performing well on each test can all boil down to what kind of test taker you are.
- The ACT includes a science reasoning test; the SAT does not.
- The ACT math section includes trigonometry; the SAT math does not.
- The SAT tests vocabulary much more than the ACT.
- The SAT is not entirely multiple choices.
- The SAT has a guessing penalty; the ACT does not.
- The ACT tests English grammar; the SAT does not.
- The SAT has an experimental section; the ACT does not have any.
Depending on your particular strengths and weaknesses, you may perform much better on one test than the other. As a result, many students embarking on the admissions process are now considering both the SAT and ACT - to figure out which test provides a better showcase for their abilities.
||Private schools; schools on the east and west coasts
||Public schools; schools in the middle of the country; more colleges
than prefer the SAT
|How Questions Appear
||Order of difficulty
||No order of difficulty
|Highest Math Level
||Algebra/Basic Geometry; test booklet supplies all formulas
||Trigonometry (only 4 questions); test booklet rarely provides formulas
|Skills Heavily Tested
||Vocabulary and Reading; Math
||Grammar and Reading; Math
|Penalty For Wrong Answers?
|Based on School Curriculum?
|Style of Test
||Tricky, with many distracters
||More straightforward, with fewer distracters
|Structure of Test
||Verbal: two 30-min. sections, one 15-min. section
Math: two-30 min. sections, one 15-min. section
Experimental: one 30-min. Verbal or Math section; looks like any other
|English: one 45-min. section
Math: one 60-min. section
Reading: one 35-min. section
Science Reasoning: one 35-min. section
Experimental: added to tests on certain dates; clearly added on
|When it's Offered
||Seven times per year:
Late March or early April
|Six times per year:
September (in 13 states only)
||200-800 for Math and for Verbal, added together for a composite score;
median about 1000
||1-36 for each subject, averaged together for a composite score; median
|When You Should Register
||At least six weeks before the test date
||At least four weeks before the test date
|For More Information
||Educational Testing Service (ETS)
The College Board