SAT and ACT – A Comparison

All undergraduate students in the United States are required to, as a mandatory requirement for admission into an undergraduate program at a College/ University, appear for standardized competitive exams like the ACT or SAT. Scores achieved by aspirants in these exams are then sent to colleges or universities of the aspirants’ choice, to further aid the admission process. Although the SAT is an older exam, it is a known fact that the ACT is more popular with students and it is a more popular exam as opposed to the SAT. Nevertheless,SAT and ACT scores are acceptable all over the US and abroad for admission to undergraduate programs. It is for the aspirant to make a choice between the two tests, depending solely on his aptitude and the kind of college he is applying to and the scores that, that particular college/(s) demand. Scores from either the SAT or ACT along with the aspirant’s GPA, extracurricular activities etc make up the entire package which is taken into consideration by the admission committees at universities.

When the question of aptitude arises, many might wonder whether both the tests measure different skills. To an extent, that assumption is correct. The SAT and ACT are different kinds of exams with respect to content and format, but their relevance is almost similar, and so is their measure of the types of skills. The difference is only of degree not approach. They both measure critical reasoning, verbal abilities, mathematical aptitude and competence and reasoning skills, but their approach towards how they measure these is different from each other. The ACT follows a more content-based approach and is entirely a multiple-choice exam (apart from the optional writing section) whereas the SAT takes a more problem-solving-based approach with part of the exam being multiple-choice and part being subjective.

Format, Content and Scores

The SAT was first administered in 1926 by the ETS (Educational Testing Service) which still continues to administer it, although it is solely run and developed by the College Board, a not-for-profit organisation in the United States. The ACT, on the other hand, was a more private enterprise led by Everett Franklin Lindquist and the first test was administered in 1959, serving as a competitor to the SAT. A lot has changed since then, in terms of which exam is more important and which isn’t. These days all colleges/universities accept either score from ACT or SAT; although the time taken, format and content of both the tests vary greatly.

The SAT is a 3 hours and 45 minutes long exam comprising of three components divided into 10 sections in total. The three components are of Critical Reading, Mathematics and Writing, having three sections each and one variable (unscored) section which tests critical reading, mathematics or writing. The ACT has an optional writing section and it is the aspirant’s choice whether or not he wishes to appear for it, depending on the requirement of the college he is applying to. These two tests vary the most in this aspect of the writing section. The ACT has 4 major sections of English, Math, Reading and Science. There are a total of 215 multiple-choice questions in this test and takes 3 hours 25 minutes to complete (2 hours, 55 minutes if you don’t appear for the optional 30-minute writing section).

The scores of the SAT and ACT too, have a great difference, although they have the same weightage when it comes to scoring well, mediocre or low. An interesting comparison can be read by aspirants at . The SAT scores are from 200-800 for each of the three components and the total score is out of 2400. Whereas the ACT is scored from 1 to 36, and there are also sub scores for the first three sections from 1 to 18. The ACT does not penalize the aspirant for an incorrect answer, unlike the SAT which deducts marks for a negative response.

Dates and Fee

The both tests are offered almost the same number of times during the year which is 6 or 7. The ACT is administered 6 times a year within the US and its territories in the months of September, October, December, February, April, and June. The SAT is administered 7 times a year in the months of October, November, December, January, March (or April, alternating), May, and June.

These two tests differ only by 50 cents in their total exam fee cost. This fee includes sending of reports to the aspirant’s high-school and his chosen colleges as well. The ACT (including the writing section of $18.50) costs $49.50, whereas, the SAT costs the aspirant $49 in total (from $78 – $100 for International students).

Aspirants and What is Being Measured

The College Board, via the SAT, measures an aspirant’s ‘readiness’ for college and its rigors in academic work load. It measures literacy and writing skills along with problem solving skills, which they deem as crucial to college life and success thereafter. Students in their junior high or in their first year of senior school appear for this exam. Many times even twice to get the hang of it and perform better the second/third time. The ACT on the other hand, is designed to test all that you have learnt in school up until now and how well you can use that competently in college. It tests your English, Math, Reading and Science skills and leaves the option of a writing assessment skill open for the aspirant to take or not. Senior year students in school often take this test as the next obvious step is an undergraduate program.