What is the difference between SAT and ACT and should I take them?

The answer to this question is simply dependent upon each student’s individual strengths. There are diagnostic tests for student counselling available to help you decide.  From the University’s perspective both tests are viewed equally and given the same weightage.

Both tests are used by American colleges to assist in admission decisions. While important to have good scores it is only one factor that determines a student’s admission – others being academic grade, references, personal essays and extracurricular activities.

SAT continues to be paper based with focus on speed and accuracy. The new Mandatory Sections for SAT introduced in March 2016 has– Math and English (reading/writing). The ACT has an additional science section. In both tests the essay writing section is optional.   In SAT the Math section has a component where calculators are not allowed in SAT. In ACT there is no ban on using calculators.  Both tests do not have any penalties for wrong answers. The scoring in SAT in the mandatory sections ranges from 400- 1600 while in ACT the scoring is from 1-36. In both instances it is percentile rather than the absolute score which is more important and to be used for comparison.

While ACT focuses on content SAT focuses on reasoning. Time management is the key to success when taking these tests. A faster working pace is required to complete the knowledge-based ACT test: this test would therefore work better with students who can keep their calm and work efficiently under pressure. The reading section in ACT tends to have more information for the student to digest in a shorter period than SAT. The SAT is more focused on a student’s stamina and reasoning ability.

While the essay writing section in both the ACT and the SAT is optional it is highly recommended as it is a pre-requisite for some universities and can therefore limit a student’s eligibility to apply to universities of choice.

Students must also remember to take the SAT 2 subject tests regardless of whether they choose the ACT or the SAT as most competitive universities require a minimum of two subject test scores. The choice of subject tests would depend on a student’s course of interest at the select universities.

Having said that students need not panic if they are behind on taking these scholastic tests! Many universities have adopted a test-optional admission policy. Students can also opt for a pathway route which would lead them to their university of choice. In this route, students must first complete their freshman year with the pathway provider or from a community college. 

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