22 October 2016Last updated

Features | People

Ask the expert: should I take SAT or ACT?

The simple answer is: it would depend upon each student’s individual strengths

Sanjeev Verma
28 Jun 2016 | 10:32 am

What is the difference between the SAT and the ACT? I’m confused about which to take.

The simple answer is: it would depend upon each student’s individual strengths. There are diagnostic tests available to help you decide. From a university’s perspective both tests are viewed equally and given the same weighting.

The tests are used by American colleges as one factor to determine a student’s admission – others being academic grade, references, personal essays and extracurricular activities.

The SAT continues to be paper-based, with focus on speed and accuracy. The new SAT introduced in March 2016 has two mandatory sections – Maths and English (reading/writing). The ACT has an additional science one. In both tests the essay writing section is optional. In the SAT, the Maths section has a component where calculators are not allowed. In ACT there is no ban on using calculators.

Both tests do not have any penalties for wrong answers. The scoring in the SAT in the mandatory sections ranges from 400-1600, while in the ACT scoring is from 1-36. In both instances it is percentile rather than the absolute score that is used for comparison.

While the ACT focuses on content, the SAT focuses on reasoning. Time management is the key to success when taking these tests. A faster working pace is required to complete the knowledge-based ACT test: this test would therefore work better with students who can keep their calm and work efficiently under pressure. The reading section in the ACT tends to have more information for the student to digest in a shorter period than the SAT.

While the essay in both is optional, it is highly recommended as it forms a prerequisite for some universities.

Students must also remember to take the SAT 2 subject tests regardless of whether they choose the ACT or SAT as most competitive universities require a minimum of two subject test scores. The choice of subject tests would depend on a student’s course of interest at the select universities.

Having said that, students need not panic if they are behind on taking these scholastic tests. Many universities have adopted a test-optional admission policy. Students can also opt for a pathway route, which would lead them to their university of choice. In this, students must first complete their freshman year with the pathway provider or from 
a community college.

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Sanjeev Verma

Sanjeev Verma

is a leading international education counsellor