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SAT Vs. ACT: Which Test Should I Take?

By Hally Z.

If you are thinking about applying to college soon, be aware that most schools require that you take and submit scores for standardized tests such as the SAT the ACT or both standardized tests. There are some differences between these tests, and specific pros and cons to taking either exam. The following are some of the differences between the SAT and ACT exams:

Composition

The SAT is made up of 10 sections composed of three critical reading, three math and three writing sections, which are scored, and one experimental section, which is not scored. The ACT consists of four sections composed of English, math, reading and science. There is also an optional writing test included with both exams.

Scoring

The SAT has a total score range of 600 to 2400 based on the sum of the three subject scores, each of which range from 200 to 800. The writing essay receives a score of 0 to 12 and is computed into the SAT final score. The ACT has a composite score of 1 to 36 based on the average of the four test sections. Each section is also separately scored from 1 to 36. The optional writing test for the ACT is scored from 0 to 12, and its score is not included in the ACT composite score.

Wrong Answer Penalty

The SAT deducts ¼ of a point for every wrong answer, except for math grids. With the ACT, wrong answers are not penalized.

Score History

For both the SAT and ACT, you decide which scores are sent to the college or university.

Philosophy

The SAT assesses your critical thinking and test-taking skills. Problems are worded to be intentionally confusing. Your innate ability to dissect a problem and solve it is tested more than your knowledge of actual subject matters. In contrast, the ACT focuses more on assessing your knowledge of specific subject matters such as biology, chemistry and geometry.

Test Preparation

SAT study materials attempt to improve your critical thinking and test-taking skills. ACT study materials try to improve your breadth and depth of knowledge on specific school subjects.

Which Test Is Better for Me?

Based on the above information, you may be wondering which test is more difficult to take. The answer depends on your style of thinking and study. If you excel at accumulating information about classroom subjects, solving equations using set formulae and reading literature, then the ACT may be better for you. If you enjoy semantics and picking apart a problem, or analyzing mathematical or scientific principles, then the SAT would be better suited to you.

When deciding whether to take the SAT or ACT, first find out which test is demanded by the colleges or universities of your choice. Many schools prefer one exam over the other. Other schools accept either exam (e.g., Yale University). In some cases, even though a school states that it "accepts" a particular exam, this does not imply that it will take one exam in lieu of another -- it means only that the school will take additional test scores into consideration. If you are unsure about a particular school's exact test requirements, contact its admissions office.

If time and money permit, you could benefit from taking both exams. You will be able to choose from your higher scored exam should the school not have a preference about accepting the SAT or ACT standardized test.

Alternatively, you might consider taking a practice SAT and a practice ACT. You can see which one you score better on and then focus your test prep efforts on that standardized test.

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