The SAT and ACT are college admissions tests that many students must take as part of their common application process. In the past, which test students took used to be determined largely by geography; students on the West and East Coasts would take the SAT, while students in the middle of the country would take the ACT. Now, students have a choice, and they should read more about each test before deciding which test caters to their strengths. Here's a rundown on both tests:
The SAT, given by the College Board, is to date the most widely used college admissions test. The SAT has three sections: Critical Reading, Math, and Writing. Each section is scored out of 800 points for a total of 2400 points. The scores required for different colleges vary. In general, competitive universities require combined scores above about 1,800, and some very competitive schools tend to admit students who score above 650 or 700 in all or most sections. The SAT is designed to measure critical reasoning skills. The entire test takes 3 hours and 45 minutes.
The reading portion of the test contains sentence completion sections and passages about which students must answer questions. There is one twenty-minute section and two twenty-five minute sections. The math portion of the test, which includes one twenty-minute section and two twenty-five minute sections, includes multiple-choice questions and student-produced responses, and the writing section includes a required essay and questions related to grammar. Students are allowed to use certain approved calculators for the math section. The writing portion of the test includes a ten-minute section and two twenty-five minute sections. There are 140 questions in all, not including the essay.
After it was first introduced in 2005, the essay portion of the SAT originally came under fire because a study by an MIT professor named Les Perelman found that the length of the essay contributed most heavily to the score. At first, colleges did not heavily weigh the writing score when admitting students. However, a 2008 study by the College Board found that the writing test was the best predictor of college success, so colleges started to place more weight on students' writing scores when making admissions decisions.
The ACT is another college admissions test that includes the following four multiple-choice sections: English (45 minutes), Math (60 minutes), Reading (35 minutes), and Science (35 minutes), and an optional writing section (35 minutes). There are 215 questions in all. Students can use approved calculators for the math section, which covers math that students study up until the beginning of their senior year. The science section measures the skills used in science classes, including interpretation and analysis of graphs, experiments, and scientific viewpoints. Unlike the SAT, the ACT does not include a student-produced response section in math. The test is scored from 1 to 36, and the test produces a composite or combined score from 1 to 36 and a test score for each of the four sections of the test. There are also seven sub-scores from 1 to 18 for parts of each of the four sections.
Which Test Should you Take?
Ultimately, which test you take depends on you and your college guidance counselor. You may want to take practice tests for the ACT and SAT and see which test you prefer. Keep in mind some essential differences between the tests:
- The ACT has an optional writing test, while the SAT requires the essay.
- The SAT measures critical thinking skills, while the ACT measures aptitude, meaning specific subjects studied in high school. Some people believe it's easier to study for the ACT, though people also study for the SAT.
- The ACT has more questions, while the SAT has fewer questions and allows more time for each question.
- The SAT has student-produced responses in the math section, while the ACT does not.
- The SAT requires students to jump back and forth between different sections, while the ACT does not.
- The ACT has a science section, while the SAT does not.
The good news is that now that both tests are accepted at American colleges and universities, you can try them both out and see which one suits you better. In addition, keep in mind that there are many colleges that do not require admissions tests; you can find them at Fair Test.