All colleges take ACT or SAT scores from potential students into consideration, but it’s up to each student to decide which test to do. While some students will excel at taking the SAT, others find that the ACT suits their academic strengths better. Before deciding which test to take, students should consider the differences between the two.


Academic Areas

The SAT includes sections on writing, math and critical reading, while the ACT has sections on English, Science, Reading and Math:

Reading and writing: The SAT places more emphasis on writing and reading skills than the ACT, making this the better test to choose for those with a strong vocabulary and good reading comprehension. Students should also note that the writing portion of the SAT is mandatory. The writing section of the ACT is optional, although some colleges require students to take this section of the test.

Math: Students who do better at math should consider taking the ACT, which includes questions on trigonometry and other advanced mathematical concepts in addition to basic concepts. The SAT math section focuses on basic math concepts in arithmetic, geometry and algebra, although the questions tend to be more abstract in nature than those on the ACT.

Science: The SAT does not test students on scientific concepts. The ACT science section focuses on scientific reasoning rather than testing knowledge of specific topics in biology, chemistry and other scientific areas.

Straightforward vs. Abstract

The SAT and ACT differ significantly in how questions are worded. SAT questions are typically more abstract and difficult to understand at first glance. Students usually need to think carefully about what the question is asking before they can work on finding the answer. ACT questions are worded in a more straightforward manner, allowing students to work through them more quickly than SAT questions.

Test Setup

The SAT content is divided into alternating sections. This means students must switch from one type of content to another, such as from writing to math to reading then back to writing. The ACT tests students on one type of content at a time before having them move on to another type of content.

Sectional Scores vs. Composite Score

Colleges look at students’ scores on each section of the SAT and focus on the overall or composite score for the ACT. Having the composite score taken into consideration offers an advantage for students who are stronger in certain areas. A lower score in one area does not usually prevent students from scoring high on the ACT overall if they do well on the other sections.

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