High school students and parents often wonder which college admissions test to take. As you may know, every college in the country accepts either test. Many times, students will take a diagnostic test of each type to determine which is a better fit. Others just take whatever is given for free at school, as many school districts now pay for students to take the test at school. We strongly urge most high school students to take the ACT test, as it is a very coachable test, and seems to be a better fit for almost every high school student.
The ACT has remained relatively constant for the past few decades, with only very minor changes. The SAT, on the other hand, has undergone radical changes over the past few years. Most importantly, this change reduces the number of practice tests available for review, and the modification of formats does not allow a great deal of security in test preparation. If we know generally what to expect, then we may more properly prepare for the test.
Here we have gone through each subject and we have detailed the specifics of the ACT and the SAT:
ACT: No extra penalties for wrong answers. Fill in every bubble.
SAT: No extra penalties for wrong answers. Fill in every bubble.
Both tests have optional essays that do not enter in the composite score.
ACT: High school level material. Passages are always in the same order and the same length, four passages, forty questions in 35 minutes. Practice simple reading comprehension strategies to improve the score.
SAT: College level material. Passages vary in length and subject matter. Passages include graphs and data, as well as questions asking students to choose the best evidence to back up claims. Often includes old English or historical primary sources. The test gives 65 minutes for 52 questions.
ACT: High school level passages, 5 short passages to correct, 45 minutes, 75 questions. Basic, non-tricky grammar questions.
SAT: College level passages to correct. Although the same grammar concepts are covered, the questions are sometimes tricky. The grammar passages have data charts and graphs. 35 minutes, 44 questions.
ACT: Calculator permitted. 60 minutes, 60 questions. The ACT focuses on pre-algebra, algebra 1, algebra 2, geometry, averages, probability, and some trigonometry. High school math subjects must be reviewed.
SAT: No calculator allowed on the first math section, 25 minutes, 20 questions. Calculator allowed on the second math section, 55 minutes, 38 questions. SAT math also covers pre-algebra, algebra 1, algebra 2, geometry, averages, probability and some trig. SAT math has multiple level math problems that often depend on a deeper understanding of math concepts.
ACT: The science section provides 6-7 passages, or lab reports, in 35 minutes. The section does not require a lot of outside science information but does require an understanding of the scientific method and reading charts and graphs quickly. There are many strategies to aid students in this process.
SAT: No science section on the SAT, though there are several science graphs presented in the verbal section of the test.