Most colleges require applicants to take the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) or the ACT. Although a few colleges or universities require one or the other, many accept both. So, which one should you take?
Here is a quick break down to help you decide:
- Time – Both the SAT and ACT are approximately three hours long. The SAT takes 3 hours and 5 minutes, and the ACT takes 2 hours and 55 minutes to complete.
- Cost – The cost of the SAT is $43. The basic ACT test costs $30, and if you take the optional writing portion, you pay an additional $14.50.
- Frequency – The SAT is given seven times per year. The ACT is given six times per year.
- Structure – The SAT has ten sections: three critical reading, three mathematics, three writing sections (2 sections plus mandatory timed essay) and an experimental section that can be reading or math and is not identified to test takers. The ACT has four sections: English Math, Reading, and Science. The ACT also has an optional fifth writing section that is a timed essay. Test takers may choose to take the ACT with or without the essay.
- Scoring – Each of the three sections of the SAT is scored on a 200 to 800 point scale. There is a quarter-point penalty for wrong answers on the SAT. ACT sections are scored from 1 to 36 and averaged to get a composite score. The ACT does not penalize test takers for wrong answers.
- SAT Test Content – The SAT covers math up to Geometry and Algebra II. SAT Reading includes short, long, and paired prose passages with comprehension, vocabulary in context, and inference questions. Passages come from fiction, natural sciences, and social sciences. Each of the SAT reading comprehension sections include a section of sentence completion questions that test vocabulary. SAT writing includes a timed essay and questions covering grammar, usage, punctuation, and word choice.
- ACT Test Content – The ACT covers math up to trigonometry. ACT science tests basic science knowledge and interpretation of graphs and data. The ACT Reading test includes four passages (Humanities, Social Sciences, Natural Science, and Prose Fiction) with 15 questions each. The ACT English test stresses sentence-level grammar, punctuation, and style. The ACT has an optional essay.
- Websites: The SAT is given by the College Board. http://www.collegeboard.com. The ACT is given by ACT Corporation http://www.actstudent.org.
Photo created by Bill Selak and licensed under creative commons.
Before deciding which test to take, look at the requirements of the colleges you are considering, think about your academic strengths, and talk to your parents. Review the admission policies of your school choices carefully. Try to take a few practice tests of each kind if you are not certain which test is right for you.
Eric Anderson is a Tampa, Florida-based English tutor. He tutors Reading Comprehension and writing for the SAT and Reading and English for the ACT. Contact him at tampatutor at tampabay dot rr dot com or by phone at 813.787.8959.