Student destroys the eraser on their pencil while taking a standardized test

What's the Difference Between the SAT and the ACT?

If you’re getting ready for college, then you’re getting ready for standardized testing. The SAT, originally an acronym for the Scholastic Aptitude Test, then the Scholastic Achievement Test before becoming the SAT Reasoning Test, and eventually simply the SAT, was developed as a college admissions test in 1926. In 1959, the rival ACT, also originally an acronym (for American College Testing) was developed as an alternative. While all colleges and universities in the United States accept scores (although not all require it) from either test to gain admission, there are very distinct differences; the biggest of these is what each test measures. While the SAT is an aptitude test and focuses on the student’s reasoning and verbal abilities, the ACT is considered an achievement test and measures what the student has learned.

The makeup of the tests is also quite different. While the SAT is comprised of three sections (critical reading, math, and writing), the ACT breaks into four or five (reading, english, math, and science, while the writing portion is optional and largely dependent on admissions requirements). The scoring is different as well: 200 to 800 points are scored per section on the SAT, making a total low of 600 points or high of 2400; the writing portion is rated on a twelve point scale. Meanwhile, the ACT sections rate individually from 1-18; these are then combined to reach a total score, the highest of which is 36. The written portion ranges 1-6. Perhaps the most important difference regarding the scoring of the test is that while the ACT encourages guessing for unknown answers and only gives points for correct answers to ACT test questions, the SAT penalizes wrong answers, so it is better to leave questions that are too difficult blank. The ACT also offers an Interest Inventory, which allows students to a way to see what careers might be interesting to them.

Last Updated: July 25, 2017

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