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We are asked often by families with college bound students about the common standardized tests, the SAT and ACT. Which test should their student take? Both tests are accepted equally by all US colleges. The idea behind both exams is similar: to demonstrate college readiness. But despite similar aims, the tests vary in structure and timing as well as the content matter and scoring. Students hoping to find the easier testing option are out of luck. There is no easier test. But students may be more comfortable with one test over the other even if they score similarly on both. To help students make their decision, experts suggest they begin with a practice test and see which exam is best suited for them. A basic overview of each test is as follows:
- The current SAT has two sections: math and evidence-based reading and writing. An essay section is there, but it’s optional. The questions are multiple choice and free response. The SAT is graded on a 1600-point scale, but you get a totally separate score for the essay. The SAT total score is the sum of the two test scores. The SAT is said to have more challenging reading passages and questions that require more critical thinking than the ACT.
- The ACT has four multiple choice sections: English, Math, Reading, and Science. It also includes an optional essay section that is scored separately. The ACT is scored with a composite (out of 36) that is the average of the four test scores. The ACT has more questions than the SAT overall, so speed and accuracy is required.
Regardless of which test students decide to take, the goal is the same: earning a score that shows college readiness. One best practice recommended by experts is to study well ahead of the test date.