SAT and ACT: What Are They and When Should You Take Them?
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Though some colleges are moving away from requiring standardized test scores, the SAT and ACT are both accepted by the majority of colleges in the United States, which begs the question: Which one should I take? 

To answer that question, you must first understand what they are and what makes them different from one another. Unfortunately, there is no “easier” option—both are high-stakes and similar in difficulty, but there may be one test that is better suited to you. 

What are the differences between the SAT and ACT?

  1. Time per section

One of the main differences between the SAT and ACT is the amount of time allotted to each test section. The SAT allows you to take more time on each question for every exam section. The ACT requires you to move through the questions more quickly. 

The SAT has fewer questions than the ACT, but they typically require more reading and time spent problem-solving, taking slightly longer to get through. 

2. Scoring

Scoring is done entirely differently on the SAT vs. the ACT. The ACT scoring range is 1-36. The SAT scores each section in a range of 200-400, with the final score being anything between 400 and 1600. 

3. Science and math sections

The SAT includes two mathematics sections—one that allows students to use a calculator and one that doesn’t. On the other hand, the ACT includes a math section and a science section. 

Both exams feature algebra questions. However, the ACT has more questions on geometry and trigonometry. It also allows students to use a calculator throughout the whole test. 

The SAT includes a reference section with basic formulas, while the ACT doesn’t, so students who struggle with memorizing formulas might have a more difficult time. 

Math scores account for half the score of the SAT, whereas the math section of ACT makes up only about a quarter of the final score, making it a potentially better option for students who have a difficult time with math. 

4. Command of Evidence section

The SAT includes something called the Command of Evidence section, which is not included in the ACT. Command of Evidence questions are part of the reading section. These questions require you to provide evidence to support your answers based on what you read. Reading questions are listed more randomly on the ACT, corresponding with the paragraph they reference in the text.

5. Optional essay/writing assignment 

Both the SAT and the ACT offer an optional writing or essay section, but both are formatted differently. The SAT provides you with a writing prompt, and you’ll be asked to examine the topic without giving an opinion. You will be given a prompt that asks you to provide your personal views on the ACT. 

One helpful strategy for figuring out which test is best for you is taking a practice test. You can see which exam you scored better on and put your focus and attention on preparing for that exam. 

When should you take the SAT or ACT?

Both the SAT and ACT are given seven times a year. The SAT is given in March, May, June, August, October, November, and December. Take a look at the upcoming SAT test and registration dates here. The ACT is given in September, October, December, February, April, June, and July. Take a look at the upcoming ACT test and registration dates here. 

College Board recommends taking the SAT and/or ACT for the first time in the spring of your junior year and then again in the fall of your senior year before college application deadlines. Most people who retake their SAT wind up raising their scores! You can also take each test multiple times—the SAT is unlimited, and the ACT limits you to twelve attempts.

Make sure to plan around your schedule when selecting your test dates—don’t select a date just because it’s when your friends or classmates are sitting for the exam; instead, think about your commitments. If you’re preparing to star in your school’s musical in a few weeks, it’s probably not good to schedule your SAT or ACT the weekend before. Schedule your test at a time when you can give it your complete focus and attention. 

Try to take either test as early as possible so that you have plenty of time to retake and improve your scores. You might want to consider taking a standardized test prep course to learn valuable test-taking strategies that will help you boost your score. 

Knovva’s team of experienced college counselors is available to help you prepare for your SAT and/or ACT. Schedule a free consultation with us today to learn how we can help you get into your dream school!

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