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by Vault Education Editors | May 06, 2009


Now that you're a couple of weeks into your secondsemester and you've analyzed your PSAT results from October, it is timefor you to start thinking about the tests that count: the SAT and theACT. While most students used to opt for the SAT, the ACT is becomingincreasingly more popular throughout the country. All schools will nowaccept the ACT in place of the SAT, so you can submit one test or bothwhen applying. But before you crack open the books and start studying,you should take the time to consider which test is right for you.

Topics tested

While both tests serve the same general purpose ascollege entrance exams, there are major differences between the twotests, and it is often the case that students will perform far betteron one test than the other. The topics covered on the two tests aresimilar: the SAT has three sections (Reading, Math, and Writing) andthe ACT has four (English, Math, Reading and Science).

The Math sections are the most comparable in thatthey each test students' skills in arithmetic, algebra, geometry andadvanced topics. You should note that the advanced topics on the ACTare a little more similar to those tested in high school math classes(logarithms, trigonometry, etc).

The English section on the ACT and the Writingsection on the SAT are very similar in that they both test basicgrammar skills. But whereas the SAT has three question types, the ACTonly has one. The Reading section on the SAT has both critical readingquestions and sentence completion questions that test a student'sknowledge of advanced vocabulary; however, the Reading section on theACT is comprised of four critical reading passages, so is sometimes abetter option for students who have not studied vocabulary in school.

The ACT's Science section--the one section itdoesn't share with the SAT--does not actually test students' knowledgeof science, but instead focuses on a student’s ability to read andinterpret graphs and charts.


Once you've considered the different test content,it's time to consider how each test is scored. The scores on the SATand ACT are vastly different. For starters, the SAT is out of a totalof 2400 points and the ACT is out of a maximum of 36 points. Eachsection of the SAT is worth 800 points and the totals for each sectionare added together to give the overall score. Each section of the ACTis out of 36 points and the total score for each section is averaged togive the composite score for the exam.

Furthermore, the ways the tests are graded arealso different. The SAT is a negative marking exam that awards onepoint for every correct answer, but also subtracts one-fourth of apoint for every incorrect answer. Because of this, it is sometimesbetter for a student to omit a question rather than answer incorrectlyso as not to lose point. The ACT, on the other hand, only gives pointsfor correct answers, so a student should not leave any questions blanksince an omit and a wrong answer are treated essentially the same.

How to choose

The best way for a student to decide which test isright for him or her is to take a practice test in each and comparestarting scores. If one score is significantly better than the other,it is probably wise to focus your efforts just on that test. If thescores are comparable, it might not be a bad idea to prep for bothsince they are given at different times throughout the year. In thewinter and spring, the SAT is given in January, March (not in alllocations), May and June, and the ACT is given in February (not in alllocations), April and June, so there are several opportunities for astudent to take each exam multiple times. By taking both tests, youmaximize your chances of scoring really high on one or the other. And agreat standardized test score is always a welcome addition to a collegeapplication.

For more information on the college admissions process and test preparation issues, visit The Edge online at or call us today at (877) 499-EDGE to inquire about our current programs.


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