Which is better to do – SAT or ACT? What is the difference? Do all universities accept both?

SAT or ACT is necessary for admission into an American university. Top universities have stringent requirements on a good score in either test.

The Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and the American College Test (ACT) are independent tests that universities use to assess a candidate’s skills and knowledge. Both measure the essential ingredients for candidates’ college success.

The composition of each test is slightly different. The SAT is scored on a scale of 1600, while the ACT is on 36. In the former, you will have to complete two sections of 800 points each, maths and evidence-based reading and writing (there is an optional essay section).

The ACT has English, maths, reading and science sections (each totalling 36).

The SAT is nearly four hours long, while the ACT is closer to three hours. Both tests are accepted at all American universities. The most important decision is deciding which standardised test is good for you.

One of the key differences between the two exams is that SAT primarily assesses reasoning ability, while ACT focuses more on knowledge. Examining the maths sections, the SAT is more likely to include story problems and application of the basic rules of geometry. The ACT, by contrast, tends to be more straightforward. So if you are concerned about your maths skills, perhaps the ACT may be a better option.

In the English section, SAT weighs more on reading comprehension and vocabulary while ACT focuses more on grammar and syntax.

The final difference is that the ACT includes a section on science, which is not present in the SAT. Students with a good background in high school science concepts can leverage this opportunity to increase their scores. However, remember, SAT subject tests are required at most of the top institutions. You will have to score highly on two related subject tests (e.g. Physics, Biology) as part of the application process.

Another important factor to consider is the availability of instruction in your area. The SAT is far more common globally, so it is likely that you will find far more instructors/tutors who are better versed in SAT preparation than ACT.

If your school has the PSAT or Pre-ACT, you can do this to see which test suits you better before you start preparing. Finally, remember, it is more important you excel in one than doing fairly well on both. So spend more time preparing for the test than deciding which one to do.

Sanjeev Verma is an international education counsellor.