The ACT vs. the SAT

Essentially, the SAT and ACT (American College Testing assessment) are in competition with each other - the two standardized tests both seek to be the primary tool for evaluating potential college entrants. While the SAT generally gets the most public recognition, there are now nearly as many students taking the ACT as there are taking the SAT. Some schools actually consider the ACT to be a better indication of aptitude, which explains why it is increasing in popularity every year.

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The ACT enjoys widespread use in the southeast and Midwest U.S. The SAT, conversely, is the preferred test in the northeastern states and on the west coast.

Increased competition from the ACT, and the notion that the ACT is more fair and less racially biased, may be the sole motivation for significant changes to the SAT that have taken place over the last two years.

Breakdown of Differences

Here's a closer look at the key differences between the SAT and the ACT:

Some sections contain question formats besides multiple choice The entire test is multiple choice questions
The math section doesn't contain trigonometry The math section contains trigonometry
No science section is included A science reasoning section is included
Emphasis on vocabulary Vocabulary is de-emphasized
The essay section isn't optional The writing and grammar section has an optional essay
There is a penalty for incorrect answers (or guessing) No penalty for wrong answers (no "guessing penalty")
English grammar isn't tested Includes English grammar testing
Math is now one third of total score, where it was originally 50 percent Math is only 25 percent of total score
Questions progress from easy to hard Easy and hard questions are mixed
All scores for every SAT test you take are reported to colleges Scores are reported only from the test dates you choose

Philosophical Differences

The SAT has an older pedigree but was originally developed with traditional ideals of "aptitude," as well. The ACT is explicitly an assessment test that tests you on knowledge you have acquired in high school.

Testing Times

Three hours and forty five minutes. Each individual section is timed. Four hours, fifteen minutes.

Test Scores

Scored out of 2400, with each section out of 800. Graded on a scale of 36, averaged out from each of the four test sections.
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