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SAT Vs. ACT: Which College Admissions Test Should You Take?

Thu, 02/13/2020 - 1:15pm

Most colleges and universities will accept either the ACT or SAT as an admissions test. If you have a choice between one or the other, you probably wonder which one you should take. Or even if you should take both. Find out more about how these tests are similar, how they differ, and which option will give you the most benefits.

Comparing College Admission Tests: SAT Vs. ACT

These college admission test statistics demonstrate how popular both of these exams have become:

  • In 2018, College Board reported 2.1 million people took the SAT test.
  • About 1.9 million students took the ACT.
  • Even though it's unknown exactly how many people took both tests, high school counselors have suggested it's become increasingly popular.

The organizations behind the tests develop them to help measure college readiness. They vary somewhat because of the way they're scored, the time it takes to complete each exam, and the way each is structured.

SAT Basics

Students must answer 154 questions for the SAT within three hours; an optional 50-minute essay can add about another hour. For the basic test, students pay $47.65, but the fee climbs to $64.50 with the optional essay. Not counting optional essays, the scores can range from a low of 400 to a high of 1,600.

ACT Basics

Students need to answer 215 questions for the ACT in two hours and 55 minutes. The optional writing test takes 40 minutes, stretching the total time to just over three and a half hours. Total scores for the basic ACT test range from one to 36, not counting the separate scores for optional essays. Students may pay $50.50 for the basic exam and $67 to include the optional essay.

How to Compare the SAT Against the ACT

These are some basic comparisons on these college admission tests:

  • Cost: Students should find the price for the tests relatively comparable. In addition, some students may qualify for state subsidies or other waivers that allow them to take the test for free or at a reduced rate.
  • Time: Some people might notice that the ACT allows less time to answer more questions. The ACT only allows an average of 49 seconds to answer a question while the SAT allows an average of a minute and 10 seconds. The SAT also takes about a half hour longer to complete.
  • Testing organizations: Nonprofit organizations run both tests. Some students may already be familiar with the SAT's College Board because they also offer advance placement as well as other tests. The ACT organization focuses mostly just upon entrance exams.

Some admissions professionals believe the ACT favors people with better verbal skills while the SAT can help people demonstrate their math skills more effectively. Also, the SAT doesn't have its own science section; however, it does sprinkle science-related questions through other portions of the test.

Generally, people who achieve high scores on one test will probably earn good marks on the other. With that said, subtle differences in the structure of the exams can make significant differences for some students.

A lot can depend upon scores for either of the two tests, and nobody can say that one is necessarily easier than the other one. Many high school counselors suggest preparing for and taking both tests as early as possible, even in your junior year. Then you can better measure which one gives you higher scores or seems better for your particular strengths. Then you can send scores for your stronger test to your college or university of choice.

And while you can't exactly compare the scores on the two exams, a guideline suggests an SAT score over 1,570 roughly equates to an ACT score of 36. Likewise, you might compare an SAT score of about 1,300 to a 28 on the ACT.

Should You Complete the Optional Essay Portions of the SAT or ACT?

A slight majority of students do opt for the optional essay portion of the SAT or ACT. In 2018, 1.4 million of the 2.1 million students who took the basic SAT also completed the essay. In contrast, about half of the people who took the ACT opted to take the essay exam. However, it truly is optional. While a few schools require it, most don't.

Students who struggle with essay writing, particularly with a time limit, may choose to skip this optional portion. On the other hand, if a student does well, it can offer a competitive admissions department some extra points in an applicant's favor. Naturally, you should take it if it's a requirement for any colleges you plan to apply to.

How to Prepare for The ACT or SAT

In theory, your high school career should give you the bulk of the preparation you need to do well on either test. In practice, you may find that the format of these standardized tests varies from the sort of exams you have experienced in the past.

Prudent test takers take some time to prepare for this test to make certain that they're not surprised by the types of questions asked, know how to structure essays for the best results, and develop good strategies to answer the questions in the time allowed. You can find offline and online classes, books, and practice tests to ensure you've prepared as well as you should.

Where to Send Your SAT or ACT Scores

You worked hard to earn your grades, achieve test scores, and participate in school activities. Reward yourself by applying to University of the Cumberlands. In exchange for your commitment to education, University of the Cumberlands will provide you with highly qualified professors, affordable tuition rates, financial aid options, and standards as high as your own.