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What Is The Difference Between The Sat And Act?

By: Susie Watts

The SAT and ACT often cause more stress and worry than any other part of the college admissions process. Parents and students know that for most schools, test scores are an important factor for both college admissions and scholarships.

The SAT and ACT are college entrance tests for students who are planning to attend most 4-year universities or colleges. They are not required at all schools.

So, what is the difference between the two tests?

The SAT is a 10-section exam lasting 3 hours and 45 minutes. One section of the test is experimental (not scored) and is used by the College Board to determine new questions to be asked on future tests. It can be an extra section of Math, Critical Reading, or Writing. There is no way for students to know which section is experimental. The SAT is made up of 171 questions, almost all of them multiple-choice. There are ten math questions that students work through and then grid-in their answers. The SAT is more of a reasoning and logic test. While there is a small penalty for guessing on the SAT, students need to know where and how to guess in order to do well. A perfect score on the SAT is 2400 or 800 on each of the 3 sections.

The ACT is a 4-section exam lasting 4 hours including the essay. It is aligned more with the high school curriculum and some feel it is a more straightforward test than the SAT. It has four sections, including English, Math, Reading, and Science. The Math section includes some trigonometry. The ACT also has an essay at the end of the test which is optional for students. Some colleges require the ACT essay and some do not. Guessing is not penalized on the ACT. Scores for each section of the ACT are averaged together to create a composite score. Scores range from 1 to 36. A perfect score for the ACT is a 36; however, the writing section is given as a separate score.

Some students may do better on one test than the other. For this reason, high school students are advised to take both the SAT and ACT in the spring of their junior year. This gives them a chance to see which test seems to fit their learning style the best. Students may take the tests more than once to improve their score (only the highest score will count). Many students take the tests two or three times. Colleges will accept either the SAT or ACT. Students should schedule their test dates far enough in advance so that they have at least two months to prepare for the tests. Students can register online for both the SAT and ACT.

About the Author

If you want to help your student become a stronger college applicant, go to Susie Watts is a college planner who helps students with their college search, applications and essays, and great college advice.

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