The decision to focus on the SAT or the ACT for one’s standardized testing is a matter of personal choice. While many students will do relatively the same on both tests, there are some students that will do better on one over the other due to the types of questions and format. If you are unsure which test you should focus on, we generally recommend that you take both tests; once in December and January of one’s Junior grade 11. Then you can see how you do on both tests and decide what to focus on from that point forward.
IMPORTANT: the choice of submitting an ACT or SAT does not impact admissions as both standardized tests are widely accepted by all colleges in the U.S.
THE BASIC DIFFERENCES
- Considered more of an aptitude test in that sense that it is testing your reasoning and verbal abilities, not what you have learned in high school.
- The SAT has 170 questions plus the required essay.
- The questions are generally thought of as less straight forward in nature than the ACT (maybe requiring additional reading for accurate comprehension)
- SAT takes 3 hours and 20 minutes
- There is not a science section
- Grammar is important
- Does not have questions on trigonometry
- Has a guessing penalty (1/4 mark off for incorrect answers)
- There is an essay (25 minutes long) that asks you to present a broad issue using examples that may come from history, literature or your personal experiences
- More emphasis put on vocabulary
- Questions get progressively more difficult as one gets further into the test
- Math section is multiple choice plus some written answers
- Each section of the test is scored out of 800 points (average score is typically around 500)
- Colleges will quite possibly focus on your individual section scores (Critical Reading, Math and Writing)
For a quick look at some FREE SAT questions, please go here.
- considered more of an achievement Its purpose being to essentially test what you have studied in school.
- The ACT has 215 questions plus the optional essay. The optional essay can replace additional SAT II scores that may be required by colleges
- The questions are generally thought of as more “straight forward” in nature than the SAT
- The actual testing time for the ACT with essay is 3 hours and 25 minutes
- Technically the ACT allows less time per question
- There is a science section covering areas of biology, chemistry, physics and earth science
- Grammar is important and punctuation is particularly emphasized
- Has questions on trigonometry
- Does not have a guessing penalty
- There is an essay (30 minutes) that is optional but generally required by colleges anyways. It asks you to take a stand on a potentially controversial issue and include a counter-argument when you write it.
- Less emphasis put on vocabulary.
- Questions do not get progressively more difficult as one gets further into the test
- Math section is all multiple choice
- Each section of the test is score out of 36 points (average score is typically around 21)
- Colleges will most likely focus on your composite score (it is a “big picture” test)
For a quick look at some FREE ACT questions, please go here.
Alternatively, there is a growing number of SAT/ACT optional schools in the United States. What that means is that you do not have to submit an SAT or ACt score and it will not be held against you during admissions. Colleges and universities will instead, focus more on other areas of your college application such as your high school transcript and IB grades.
For a list of SAT/ACT optional schools, please go to the National center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest) website located here.