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A Comparison of the ACT & SAT

Students preparing for college admissions are often confused about which admissions test will make their college applications stronger – the ACT or the SAT? While neither test is “better” and most great schools accept either, it’s important to consider both the similarities and differences before you register. Whether you take one, or both, you’ll need to know how they are similar and divergent in terms of format, content, and pacing requirements, so that you can ensure your Test Day success! Let’s make a brief comparison of the ACT and SAT.


ACT/SAT Similarities

For both tests, each question correctly answered is worth one point.

Unlike the SAT, there is no penalty on the ACT for marking incorrect answers on multiple-choice questions.

There is a lot of overlap in the tested content.

Most of the concepts in the SAT Math are tested on the ACT Math as well, although generally the ACT Math is considered slightly more challenging as it includes Trigonometry. The grammar rules underlying the SAT Writing sections are also tested on the ACT English Test.

Both tests contain an essay.

The SAT essay is always Section 1. The Writing section of the ACT will always be last and is optional (though highly recommended).

Schools typically prefer one test over the other.

Although more and more schools accept both tests, the SAT is generally the preferred test for schools on the East and West coasts, while the ACT remains popular with schools in the Midwest and in the South. To determine whether you should take the SAT, the ACT, or both, you should see what the schools to which you are applying prefer.


ACT/SAT Differences

The tests have different scaled scores.

On the SAT, each of the three sections has a maximum scaled score of 800. The highest possible SAT score is a 2400. On the ACT, you will receive a separate ACT score (from 1 to 36) for each of the five tests and a Composite ACT score, which is an average of the first four 4 tests.

There are no subscores on the SAT.

In addition to the English/Writing subscore, you will receive subscores in English, Math, and Reading on the ACT that range between 1 and 18. These scores provide you with more detail about your performance, but they are not actually used by schools.

The essay is 25% of the SAT Writing score, but counted separately on the ACT.

The Writing Test on the ACT is scored separately from the ACT English Test, although you will receive a combined English/Writing score on your report.

The SAT has more sections.

The SAT consists of 10 sections testing three different categories: Writing, Reading, and Math. The ACT consists of 5 separate tests of varying lengths testing five different categories: English, Math, Science, Reading and Writing.

The SAT is more vocabulary-heavy.

There are no Sentence Completions on the ACT, although a strong vocabulary makes the ACT English and Reading Tests easier.

The ACT has no wrong answer penalty!

Even if Math and Science aren’t your strengths, you may want to try taking the ACT to see how you do! Unlike the SAT, there is no wrong answer penalty. You should be able to get points simply by using elimination strategies and intelligent guesswork!


About Magoosh ACT

Magoosh is a company of passionate educators, located in Berkeley, CA. We are here to provide you with everything you need to prep for the ACT, SAT, GRE, GMAT, and TOEFL! Be sure to follow us on Twitter @Magoosh.

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