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One of your first college admissions decisions is deciding whether to take the ACT, SAT, or both. As you read, you’ll discover there is no wrong or right answer to this question. Instead, keep an open mind and see which test best aligns with your skills and dream college’s admission requirements. 

What are the ACTs and SATs?

The ACT and SATs are entrance exams designed to gauge how students may perform in college without additional support. These exams provide a glimpse of how prepared students may be to succeed upon acceptance. Traditionally, most universities and colleges used these results to accept or reject an applicant’s bid for admittance.  

The higher students score on either test, the more funding and college options become available.  

COVID’s Impact on ACTs and SATs

When COVID-19 hit, common ACT and SAT testing sites shut down for the safety of students, faculty, and staff. This prevented high school students from taking their tests and earning the scores required to apply for college. This was compounded by a 1.5% nationwide decline of freshman enrollment. 

Colleges and universities sought new ways to increase freshman enrollment without penalizing students who couldn’t take the entrance exams. One solution was for colleges and universities to relax the test score requirements by implementing a Test Optional policy. This policy allows applicants to choose whether they submit their ACT or SAT scores during the admissions process. 

If a student chose not to submit their ACT or SAT scores, it wouldn’t hurt their application.  

As of 2022, at least 1800 four-year colleges across the US won’t require admissions tests starting fall 2023. This policy is said to remain in effect until 2025.  

Do I Still Need the ACT or SAT?

The short answer? Yes, you do. 

The long answer?  

The Test Optional policy, in theory, avoids penalizing students who were unable to take their exams due to outside factors. It also provides more college options for excellent students who are simply poor test takers. Removing this requirement allows students an equal chance of being accepted into schools previously outside of their reach. 

The Test Optional policy also makes it easier for anyone to apply for any school operating under this policy. This means both competition and rejection rates have increased.  

So, how can you combat this new reality? A high GPA, strong college essay, extracurriculars, and glowing recommendation letters are a great start. Having an ACT or SAT score may also help your application stand out.  

While some universities and colleges are implementing Test Optional policies, this policy currently doesn’t extend to scholarship applications. Increase your funding opportunities by taking the ACT or SAT.  

If you’re unsure how to improve your current GPA or how to write your college essay, C2 Education can help. 

What’s the Difference Between the ACT and SAT?

The three key differences between the ACT and SAT are time, sections, and scores. Choosing the best fit for you depends on your familiarity with each section and the time provided to complete them. Neither test has a guessing penalty, so students should answer as many questions as possible. 

#1: Timing 

The time provided to answer a question could be a huge factor when choosing the best test for you. While having extra time is nice, consider why that time may be factored into the exam. 

Timing for the ACT and SAT 

The ACT offers two versions: one with an essay and one without. 

The ACT without the essay provides 2 hours and 55 minutes to complete 215 multiple-choice questions. This means you have roughly 50 seconds to complete each question. Remember, there is no guessing penalty for the ACT, so answer as many questions as you can.  

The ACT with an essay provides the same 2 hours and 55 minutes for 215 multiple choice questions. Once complete, you’ll have an additional 40 minutes for your essay. This brings the total test time to roughly 3 hours and 30 minutes. 

The SAT gives you 3 hours to answer 154 multiple choice questions. This means you have roughly 70 seconds to complete each question. Keep in mind, the questions on the SAT aren’t as straightforward as those on the ACT hence the extra time.  

Like the ACT, the SAT does not have a guessing penalty. Do your best to answer as many questions as possible. 

#2: Test Sections 

Both tests contain English, reading, and math. The ACT offers a science section which focuses on data interpretation and analysis. The closest the SAT comes to this section is the inclusion of tables and graphics across various sections. 

ACT English vs. SAT Evidence-Based Writing  

The ACT English section gives you 45 minutes to answer 75 multiple-choice questions. This section tests your understanding of grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure. It also requires critical thinking to eliminate incorrect answers which increases your probability of selecting the correct answer. 

The SAT Evidence-Based Writing and Language section gives you 35 minutes to complete 44 multiple-choice questions. This section tests grammar, your ability to learn new vocabulary based on context, and your editing skills. Process of Elimination can be used to narrow choices and increase your probability of selecting the correct answer. 

ACT Reading vs. SAT Evidence-Based Reading 

The ACT Reading section gives you 35 minutes to answer 40 multiple-choice questions. You’re provided four passages and 10 questions for each. The prose fiction passages test your ability to identify implied and explicit meanings.  

Social science passages test your understanding of the main idea or an author’s opinion on a specific subject. Nonfiction passages often test your ability to make inferences based on the nonlinear information provided. Natural science passages test how well you can sift through dense material to find your answers. 

The SAT Evidence-Based Reading section gives students 65 minutes to answer 52 multiple-choice questions. Like the ACT, you’ll have four types of passages: literature, history, social studies, and natural sciences. Unlike the ACT, you’ll read five passages during this section. 

The questions in this section test your ability to infer answers based on the information provided. This section also requires you to compare multiple passages and find relevant information in a short timeframe. 

ACT Math vs. SAT Math 

The ACT Math section gives you 60 minutes to answer 60 multiple-choice questions. These questions cover algebra, geometry, and trigonometry. Fortunately, the ACT allows students to use TI-83 calculators during this section.  

The SAT section is broken into two parts: 25 minutes without a calculator and 55 minutes with a calculator. Like the ACT, the math sections cover algebra, geometry, and trigonometry. 

ACT Science 

The ACT Science section gives you 35 minutes to answer 40 multiple-choice questions. The topics covered can include biology, astronomy, physics, or geology. The main purpose of this section is to test your ability to analyze data, trends, and make predictions.  

Optional ACT Writing Test 

The ACT Writing test provides a prompt and three perspectives. You have 40 minutes to form your own opinion and use these three perspectives to support your thesis.  

Remember, the ACT Writing test is optional.  

Some colleges may require this for admissions, while others don’t. Make sure to check your dream school’s requirements before deciding whether to take this section of the ACT. 

It’s worth noting the SAT once had an essay section. However, as of June 2021, it has been discontinued. 

#3: Scores 

The ACT is scored on a scale of 1 to 36. The SAT is scored on a scale of 400 to 1600.  

Several concordance tables were published to help students and schools compare scores across tests. However, the concordance tables shift as new data becomes available. As a result, we suggest taking comparisons between the two scores with a grain of salt.  

Which Test is Right for You?

Ultimately, only you can choose the best fit for you. Taking practice tests for each exam can improve your familiarity with each. It can also help gauge your performance for both exams.  

Consider the time and what to expect for each section when making your decision. Check out our webinar for ways to make informed decisions based on test information.