Both the ACT and SAT are universally accepted by colleges and universities, but schools have individual policies about how they treat multiple scores of the same test, whether they consider the highest score achieved, most recent score, average score or "super-score" (a revised composite based on recombining best scores from same sections from multiple testings). The ACT has remained very consistent in content and format since the 1980s, while the SAT has undergone major revisions in 2004 and 2016. These recent changes were quite significant and made the two tests much more similar than before. Fortunately, 95% of the strategies I teach apply to both which makes it easier to prepare at the same time.
The most important similarities of both tests are their universal acceptance, marathon format (each are 3+ hours), underlying content, equal point value for questions regardless of difficulty level (easy questions are worth the same as hard ones), no penalty for wrong answers (the old version of the SAT discouraged random guessing) and optional essays (which some schools require, some recommend, and others consider optional).
The most notable differences between the tests are scoring, timing, and specifics regarding math, reading and science.
SCORING: The SAT Composite is a sum of four sections: the Writing & Language and Reading make up the EBRW (Evidence-Based Reading and Writing) score, and Math with No Calculator and Math with Calculator make up the Math score. This means that grammar accounts for half of the SAT reading score (although there is no longer the significant emphasis on vocabulary like there used to be). It also means that math accounts for half of the total score, whereas it is one-quarter of the average of the four sections that comprise the ACT composite.
TIMING: Since all sections of the SAT allow for more time per question than the corresponding ACT sections, the ACT generally feels like a significantly faster test, especially for the reading passages (see specific time comparisons in chart below.) However, the faster pace of the ACT is balanced by its more straightforward wording and simpler tasks (such as setting up a math problem without having to solve it). On the contrary, many SAT questions seem tricky and require decoding or additional steps.
MATH: ACT math allows for calculator use on the entire section. SAT math includes gridded responses, while ACT math is all multiple choice. The SAT math multiple-choice questions have 4 answer choices, while the ACT math has five. SAT diagrams are not drawn to scale, so they can not visually be trusted; conversely, ACT diagrams are almost always drawn to scale (despite the warning that they are not) and it has 3-4 times the number of geometry-based questions. SAT math includes a chart of basic formulas, while ACT does not (though it does provide needed higher-level formulas within the problem itself.)
READING: SAT reading passages questions are presented in chronological order and often include line numbers, making the information relatively easy to find. However, many recent SAT tests include out-of-date passages with difficult diction or irrelevant topics.
SCIENCE: the ACT has an entire section dedicated to science while the SAT embeds a few data interpretation questions into the EBRW sections. An advantage of the ACT format, however, is that some schools allow for its subsections to be used instead of additional SAT II subject tests, thus significantly reducing testing requirements, especially for STEM majors.
How to Choose Which Test to Take:
Research the requirements and super-scoring policies of schools of interest.
Consider testing dates, free school-sponsored tests and potential scheduling conflicts such as other tests, major events/activities such as Prom, sports, etc (see below).
Consider your own strengths/weaknesses and preferences (see below).
Figure out if you are a cat person or a dog person. (Ok, although I have long suspected there is some underlying correlation, I have not yet figured it out LOL).
How Not to Choose:
Follow the standard advice of guidance counselors or teachers who push taking both tests as many times as possible. Increased participation boosts the school's grade; however, it rarely benefits individual students who are already overtested. Furthermore, more testing does not automatically mean higher scores and can even cause burnout, resistance, resentment and therefore even hurt performance.
Do what your friends are doing without doing your own research and prioritizing personal factors and goals.
Believe testing myths ("The _____ is easier." "The ____ is better." "The ____ is more accepted." )
Approximately 1/3 of students will do comparably well on both tests as predicted by the concordant score table (see below), whereas 1/3 will do much better on the ACT and 1/3 on the SAT. Preference strongly correlates with performance. Take this quick to help determine which test fits you best. Add up your results: a score close to 10 indicates SAT preference; a score closer to 30 means you should take both; a score close to 50 favors the ACT. Or complete my for customized feedback on your personalized test prep plan or to jumpstart our sessions.
SAT Test Dates:
August 25, 2018 (Register by July 25)
October 6, 2018 (Register by September 6)
November 3, 2018 (Register by October 3)
December 1, 2018 (Register by November 8)
March 8, 2019 (Register by February 8)
May 4, 2019 (Register by April 4)
June 1, 2019 (Register by May 1)
ACT Test Dates:
September 8, 2018 (Register by August 5)
October 27, 2018 ( Register by September 21)
December 8, 2018 (Register by November 2)
February 9, 2019 (Register by January 11)
April 13, 2019 (Register by March 8)
June 8, 2019 (Register by May 3, 2019)