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Choosing Between the SAT and the ACT

written by: Pauline H. Gill•edited by: SForsyth•updated: 7/3/2010

The SAT and the ACT are college entrance exams that provide accommodations for special needs students. The question is which is the best test for you? Both tests are accepted by colleges, but each test is different in its testing focus. Some students do better on one than the other.

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    The SAT

    The SAT is the most widely used entrance exam. It was developed in the early 1900's and used mostly in the Northeast. It is considered a critical thinking and problem solving test that contains multiple choice answers, student produced responses, and writing. It tests four main areas: math, vocabulary, reading comprehension, and writing. There is a guessing penalty with the SAT. Students receive one point for right answers and a deduction of a quarter of a point for wrong answers. Scores range from 200 to 800 for a total of 2400. The test is divided into ten sections ranging from ten to twenty-five minutes to complete. The critical reading section includes sentence completion and reading comprehension. Writing includes identifying sentence errors, improving sentences, and a twenty-five minute writing prompt. Math includes multiple choice and grid-in answers covering arithmetic, algebra I and II, and geometry.

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    The ACT and The SAT

    The ACT was first administered in 1959. It was used more in the Midwest; whereas, the SAT was mostly used in the Northeast. Today, the ACT is accepted at all colleges. It is a curriculum-based test to measure what was learned in a high school program. The test is 215 multiple choice questions that cover English, math, reading, and science. The optional writing test can add points to your overall score. Scores range from 1 to 36 and there is no wrong answer penalty.

    The ACT contains a science section which the SAT does not. The science section does require critical thinking skills and problem solving skills. The ACT has a grammar section, which the SAT does not. The ACT also tests trigonometry concepts, which the SAT does not. The SAT has more focus on vocabulary than the ACT.

    Both tests take about the same amount of time. Choosing which test to take depends on your test taking skills. If you are better taking multiple choice tests, enjoy science problem solving questions, know trigonometry, and are good in grammar, you may want to take the ACT. If you are better at critical thinking skills, have a good vocabulary, enjoy a variety of answer types, enjoy writing, and would prefer to stay away from science questions, you may prefer the SAT.

    Both tests cost approximately the same and both tests accommodate for special needs students.