The SAT and ACT are standardized tests that allow colleges to compare you to other students. In some cases, schools are dropping these tests as a requirement for admissions but most schools require one or the other. Some schools even use your test scores to evaluate whether or not you are eligible for a merit-based scholarship. The ACT tends to be more popular with public schools and schools in the Midwest and South. The SAT is the more common requirement at private schools and colleges on the east and west coasts. The most important factor in determining which test you should take is which test the schools you are applying to require. Some students may end up having to take both tests.
If you find that your schools allow you to submit test scores from either test - as is the case for some - how do you determine which one is right for you? Some students find that one test helps show their strengths or weaknesses more than the other test.
Here is a breakdown of how each test is structured:
- This test primarily covers reading, knowledge of vocabulary, grammar, math skills, and ability to communicate through writing.
- The test is split into three sections: Critical reading, Math and Writing. You will have 70 minutes to complete the Critical Reading section which will include reading passages and sentence completions, 70 minutes to complete the Math section which will ask you questions on arithmetic, geometry, algebra, statistics and probability, and 60 minutes to complete your essay and answer some questions on grammar usage in the Writing section.
- For each section, you can score between 200-800. You total score is a sum of your scores from all sections and will be between 600 and 2400. If you take the SAT more than once, you can choose which set of scores to send to the colleges you are applying to.
- Typically taking the SAT more than 3 times isn't advised since it is unlikely to improve your score.
- You can view test dates and register for the test at sat.collegeboard.org.
- The ACT has 5 major sections: English, Math, Reading, Science and Writing. The Writing section is optional but all other sections are required.
- The English section includes questions about punctuation, grammar, and has 75 questions. You have 45 minutes to complete this section.
- The Math section asks questions about pre-algebra, algebra, geometry and trigonometry. There are 60 questions and you have 60 minutes to complete the section.
- The Reading section includes readings based on four topics: social studies, natural science, prose fiction, and humanities. There are 40 questions and you have 35 minutes to complete the section.
- The Science section measures the interpretation, analysis, evaluation, reasoning, and problem solving skills required in the natural sciences. You will have 35 minutes to complete 40 questions.
- The optional Writing section is a 30 minutes essay that measures your writing skills.
- Scores in each section range from 1-36 and your total ACT score is your average score on all sections.
- You can view test dates and register for this test at www.actstudent.org.
Remember, whichever test you take, it is important to prepare! Start studying ASAP and set aside a small amount of time each week to prepare, rather than trying to get all your studying done in the few weeks preceding your test date.
Books, online resources, and classes are all available to help you prepare. Some options are completely free! Check with your high school to see if they offer a class and search online for free SAT and ACT prep classes than can help you improve your score.
Need some help deciding which schools to apply to? The College Planning Center of RI can provide you with guidance and information that can help you with your decision. Book a free appointment online.