The number of students taking the ACT each year has been steadily increasing. About 1.8 million students took it in 2014 compared to about 1.7 million who took the SAT that year. Most colleges accept both tests and simply convert the scores to a common scale for comparison. But for students, the decision about which of these competing versions of the college admissions test to take is not an easy one, and is best based on their relative comfort and familiarity with each. The summary below offers a beginning perspective on the similarities and differences between these tests.
|Work Load||215 Questions||154 Questions|
|Length of Test||Approx. 3 Hours||Approx. 3 Hours|
|Answer Type||100% Multiple Choice||92% Multiple Choice|
|Content Areas||Math, Language||Math, Language|
|Score Range||Scaled Down 1-36 pts||Scaled Up 200-800 pts|
What the tests have in common is that both are timed events, are predominantly multiple choice, are penalty free, and assess both math and language skills. They differ in the number of questions and the type of point system used for reporting the results. Overall the ACT features more questions in the same time, allowing less time per question (50 versus 70 seconds), making it a faster test by comparison. Also, the optional essay adds 30 more minutes to the length of the ACT versus 50 minutes on the SAT.
One important difference not mentioned in the table above is that the ACT is a curriculum test whereas the SAT is a reasoning test. What this means is that the ACT does not require as much analysis as the SAT and may appear more like the tests you take in high school. Another important difference is that – unlike the SAT – the ACT has a separate Science section, whereas the science questions on the revised SAT are integrated throughout the test. In both cases, however, the science questions do not depend on a knowledge of science per se, but on one's ability to interpret or conduct correlation analysis on the data in graphs; thus they involve more math than actual science.
So the question of whether to take the ACT or the SAT comes down to how fast you can read, comprehend, and compute. Other than that, the tests are similar enough to warrant taking either--or both, depending on the time you have. Nonetheless, your prep course should agree with the primary test you're taking. That is, the speed of the ACT math requires more "high velocity" strategies, the kind that enable you to guard against errors while racing the clock. In contrast, the SAT math requires more "upfront" time for setting up problems, but requires less time and tedium to compute results, so is less error prone. Likewise the ACT requires reading every line, as its questions refer predominantly to specifics in the text; whereas reading questions on the SAT can be done more cursorily, since responses are based more often on conjecture and inference than on details. Whichever prep you decide to take, however, you will experience cross-over benefits as you are sure to emerge more competent and clock-conscious taking either than if you didn't prep at all.
Now that you know a little more about the similarities and differences between the ACT and the SAT, the next step should be to take a sample test in each. We can help with that. Just call and we'll schedule you for a free one-hour comparison test using our diagnostic and projection software. If you decide the ACT is for you, then you might consider enrolling in our 24-Hour ACT Prep Course. However, if after comparing them you find you prefer the SAT instead we can help you get ready for that too. Just call and let us know.