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As a test prep professional, I am often asked what I think about the SAT / ACT debate.  Although the SAT is still a significantly more popular test for students in the northeastern part of the United States, the ACT has gained more exposure in the past few years.  The issues surrounding the choice of test can be confusing, and it is certainly an important decision to make.

As you begin to develop an admissions plan, you should weigh your options and choose which test is better for you.  Beware of people who make general statements along the lines of, “the ACT is an easier test,” or “you should not even think about taking the ACT.”  The reality is that some people will do better on the ACT and some people will do better on the SAT.

I recommend that you take a diagnostic test (which I can provide) to determine whether you are better suited for one test or the other.  After I analyze the results of that test, I can discuss preparation options with you to help you to optimize your success on either the SAT or ACT.

Take a look at some of the basic differences between the two tests:





3 hours, 45 minutes

3 hours, 25 minutes


10 Sections (including essay)

5 sections (including essay)

Section Breakdown

Critical Reading (3 sections that count)
Math (3 sections that count)
Writing (Essay + 2 Grammar sections that count)
Experimental section (could be in math, reading, or writing – does not count toward score)

English (1 section)
Math (1 section)
Reading (1 section)
Science (1 section)
Essay (Optional)

Point System

Points awarded for correct answers.
One-quarter point subtracted from total for each incorrect answer.
Possible advantage to leaving hard questions blank.

Points awarded for correct answers.
No penalty for wrong answers.
Best to answer all questions.

Scoring Scale

200-800 per section
Average score per section is just over 500.

1-36 per section
Composite score based on average of the four sections.
Average score 19.5

Score Choice

Scores SENT after February 2009 will only report the highest COMBINED score from a SINGLE test date. Colleges will no longer mix and match high scores from individual sections on different test dates. Only one date's scores will be sent.

Score Choice allows students to pick which composite score will go to colleges.




Registration Info


Emphasized on the SAT.

Not tested heavily on the ACT.


Specific questions are listed in chronological order. General questions typically come first or last. More abstract thinking required.

Focuses on speed: 40 questions in 35 minutes.
Questions are not in chronological order.

Math Topics

Basic Geometry and Algebra II

Algebra, Geometry, basic Trigonometry

Math Style

Wording of questions can be tricky.

Some students think that ACT questions are more straightforward, even though more advanced concepts are tested.


Not tested.

Science Reasoning (analysis, scientific method, interpretation, basic problem solving)


Comes first
25 minutes
Score of 0-12 factored into overall Writing score.

Comes last (optional)
30 minutes
Score of 0-12 not factored into composite score.


Tests about a dozen key grammar concepts, not including punctuation.

Punctuation tested, along with other grammar. Some comprehension questions mixed in.


Emphasized on the lengthy SAT.

Under 3 hours if you do not write the essay.


Not typically an issue.

Emphasized on the ACT.

Additional Points to Consider:

  • Preparing for the SAT has proven to have a more significant effect on your final score than preparing for the ACT does.  So, if the results of your diagnostic test show only a minimal preference for the ACT, I typically recommend choosing to go the SAT route.
  • At this time, taking the SAT is the more “standard” option for students in this geographic area.  Although colleges may accept either test, there is always the possibility that the admissions officers will assume that a student in this area who submits ACT scores chose to do so because he or she could not do well on the SAT.
  • In some cases, I actually recommend that a student prepares for and takes both the SAT and the ACT.  This may be a good option for students who are applying to schools that will accept the ACT in place of SAT Subject Tests.
  • It is incredibly important for you to be sure that the standardized test(s) you plan to take fulfill the requirements for the colleges where you will apply.
  • I do ACT prep on a more limited basis than SAT prep, and only offer individual or small group instruction. My hourly rates are the same for ACT and SAT prep.

Be advised that the SAT is about to undergo a major overhaul.The College Board has revamped the test many times in its history, and Susanna is prepared for the changes. There is no shortage of things that can be said about these developments, but it may help to take a look at what The College Board (the company that develops, adminsters, scores, and reports the test) has to say about the upcoming changes:

susanna short

Mendham, NJ

Sea Girt, NJ




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