The SAT and the ACT are standardized tests that most colleges and universities use to evaluate potential students. Schools use these tests along with high school GPA, transcripts, activities, and recommendations to decide how prepared a college applicant is. Class placement is dependent in part on how well incoming students do on these tests, and depending on the entrance requirements of the college, applicants with low SAT and ACT scores may not be accepted into the university of their choice or the program they desire.
The revised version of the SAT, or the new SAT, as many refer to it, focuses on basic reading, writing, and math. There is an emphasis on logical reasoning, analytical skills, and problem-solving. The test evaluates vocabulary, punctuation skills, and critical thinking in the writing section. In the math section, test-takers find that being able to solve real-world problems and analyze data is crucial to success. This test is designed to judge the skills students should have learned in high school. Each test contains a combined reading/writing section worth 800 points and a math section also worth 800 points. The essay section is graded separately on an eight-point scale.
Originally, the ACT was created and offered as an alternative to the SAT. However, today, the ACT is actually the most popular college entrance exam. The ACT is similar to the SAT in that it is designed to evaluate a student’s readiness for college by testing their knowledge and abilities in reading comprehension, logic, and reasoning. Each test consists of four required sections and one optional section; English, math, reading and science are required, while writing is optional. The four required sections have 36 possible points. A student’s final score is a composite score calculated from the scores of the four subject sections. The writing section is graded separately and worth 36 points as well, but the writing score is not averaged into the composite score and is noted separately in the ACT score report.
In most cases, schools will accept either an SAT or ACT score. However, some schools prefer the SAT over the ACT or vice versa, and it is important for potential students to review all of the applications requirements for the schools they’re looking at to be sure that they are able to submit the right scores. Additionally, to make the most of their potential scores, test-takers need to consider the possible advantages one test may have over the other.
No matter which test a student decides to take, preparation is key to success. Test-takers who wish to do well on these exams need to understand the format and prepare themselves specifically for the SAT or ACT. Once there is an understanding of how the test works, students are encouraged to use an SAT study guide and take practice exams. There is no specific recommended amount of time for studying, as it all depends on the individual’s current readiness and their personal goals. As students prepare, they should use multiple study resources. A broad range of study resources are available online, and SAT study guide books have also been published to help students get ready for these exams. Materials such as study apps and flash cards are often helpful.
When it is time to take the test, remember to take the time to read through each question thoroughly. Don’t simply guess at the answers if you don’t know the right one right away; instead, try eliminating incorrect answers first and then make a logical choice between the remaining answers. And lastly, breathe: A student who has prepared has nothing to worry about.
SAT Prep Resources
- Official SAT Practice
- SAT Practice Test Review
- Free Online Practice Questions for the SAT
- SAT Grammar Rules and Vocabulary Packet (PDF)
- The Math Section on the New SAT (PDF)
- SAT Essay Prep Guidelines (PDF)
- Preparing for the SAT and ACT (PDF)
ACT Prep Resources
- Free Practice Tests for the ACT
- Free ACT Practice Tests
- Reading Comprehensive Practice Test
- ACT English Sample Questions
- Preparing for the ACT Math Portion (PDF)
Test Prep Tips
- Five Things Students Must Know About the New SAT
- Taking the New SAT: Five Tips From an Expert Who Won a “Shark Tank” Deal for Test Prep
- Tips for the New SAT: Test Yourself With These Sample Questions
- Top Ten SAT and ACT Test-Taking Tips (PDF)
- Test-Taking Tips
- Managing Test Anxiety: Ideas for Students (PDF)
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Edited by: Gerri Elder
Online College Plan