Distinguishing Between the ACT & SAT Exams


The distinction between ACT and SAT can be explored through various aspects, including the components tested in each exam. Both SAT and ACT are standardized college admission tests, and the scores obtained in these tests often determine whether a student will gain admission to a particular college or university. Students may be unsure whether to take the SAT, ACT, or both. This article aims to clarify the differences between the SAT and ACT to help those desiring higher education choose the test that best suits their needs.

A few decades ago, students seeking admission to colleges in the Midwest part of America took the ACT, while colleges on the eastern and western coasts preferred SAT scores. However, over time, colleges across the country have started to accept scores from both the SAT and ACT. This has given students the freedom to choose either test, and the increased acceptance of the ACT has been beneficial for students.

Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of each test can help a student decide which test they are more likely to score better in. Many students take both tests and send the scores of the test in which they performed better to colleges for admission purposes. For those who cannot afford to take both tests, an explanation highlighting the difference between the two tests is provided below.

What is ACT?

ACT stands for American College Testing, and the exam is conducted by ACT Incorporated. ACT is a content-based test, meaning it tests the knowledge that students have gathered during high school. ACT has up to five components: English, Mathematics, Reading, Science, and an optional writing test. The test includes a scientific reasoning section, which tests reading ability and reasoning skills. ACT is a completely multiple-choice test, lasting for 3 hours and 25 minutes, and does not deduct marks for wrong answers.

ACT is offered worldwide: six times a year in the US and Canada, and five times a year in other countries. The test is paper-based, and online testing is not available. The cost for US students is $35 without the writing part and $54.50 with the writing part. International students must pay an additional $37 on top of the US fees. Students can practice for the exam by taking a practice test on the ACT website.

What is SAT?

SAT stands for SAT Reasoning Test and is conducted by the Educational Testing System (ETS). SAT has three components: Critical Reading, Mathematics, and a mandatory writing test. The test is paper-based, and online testing is not available. SAT lasts for 3 hours and 45 minutes.

SAT is not a completely multiple-choice test, as it combines multiple-choice questions with student responses. For example, students must write an essay and provide their own answers in some sections where no multiple-choice options are available. SAT measures problem-solving and critical thinking abilities, placing more emphasis on vocabulary. Students should be cautious when guessing answers, as marks are deducted for incorrect guesses in SAT.

The SAT exam is offered seven times a year, with costs ranging from $52.50 to $94.50, depending on the country. Students can take practice tests on the SAT website.

Key Takeaways

  • Purpose: ACT measures a student’s knowledge, while SAT is designed to test reasoning and verbal abilities.
  • Components: ACT has five components (English, Mathematics, Reading, Science, and optional writing), while SAT has three components (Critical Reading, Mathematics, and mandatory writing).
  • Negative Marking: ACT does not have negative marking, while SAT deducts marks for incorrect answers.

Both ACT and SAT test different skills, but they are important in allowing educators to assess students’ abilities. However, whether SAT or ACT, it is just one of the factors considered when deciding a student’s eligibility for a degree-level course in a college.

Maria Nguyen
Maria Nguyen
Maria Nguyen is a talented writer with a flair for developing captivating content in a range of formats. Her commitment to thorough research and producing top-notch material has contributed to over 4 years of professional writing and editing experience. Outside of work, Maria finds pleasure in solitary activities and immersing herself in nature. Her introspective nature and passion for self-reflection inspire her creativity. She believes that spending time alone and observing the natural world can provide valuable insights and foster personal growth, broadening her perspective as a writer.


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