SAT and ACT Comparison: What’s the Difference Between the SAT and the ACT?

by Ana Felce

One of the most important parts of the college admissions process is the college admissions test. With two different—yet similar—exams to choose from, which college entrance exam should you take? It’s a question that many hopeful college students face.

Below, we’ve compiled an SAT and ACT comparison that answers some of the most common questions surrounding the exams. Here’s what you need to know when choosing which test to take.

How Are the SAT and ACT Scored?

“The most noticeable difference between the two exams is how they are scored,” said Meagan Wilcox, a senior admissions counselor at Azusa Pacific University. For instance, the ACT is divided into four sections. Each section is graded from 1 to 36 and the final score is an average of the four scores from each section of the exam. Meanwhile, the SAT score is a combined score of two sections (scored from 200 to 800) with a maximum total of 1600. For both exams, the score for the essay does not count toward your final score.

In terms of the format, Wilcox added that “the math component of these exams is where students are most likely going to feel the differences. The SAT has specific calculator and no-calculator math sections, whereas the ACT allows students to use a calculator on all math sections.”

This means that your confidence in your math abilities might be an important factor to consider when choosing one exam over the other. In addition, unlike the ACT, the SAT does not include a specific science section in the exam—but it does contain questions that test scientific concepts.

How Much Do the SAT and ACT Cost?

When it comes to an SAT and ACT comparison, another factor to consider is cost. Both exams offer two different prices, depending on whether or not you want to take the writing portions of the exams. The prices are $47.50 and $50.50 for the SAT and ACT, respectively, and costs increase to $64.50 for the SAT and $67.50 for the ACT if you include the writing portions.

For the last few years, many states have paid to have the exams administered during school hours. Students can take those versions free of charge, where available, or they can pay to take the tests on the weekends. The availability of the free exam session will depend on where you live (and your state’s or county’s policies), so talk to your school’s guidance counselor to find out if you have the option to take the exam during school hours.

If costs are a concern for you and your family, keep in mind that both the SAT and the ACT offer exam fee waivers to help make the college admissions process more accessible to all students.

Which Exam Should I Take and How Can I Best Prepare?

Wilcox said she encourages students to take each test at least once and then retake whichever one they did better on. Based on her experience as an admissions counselor, she says that about one-third of students will do better on the ACT, one-third will do better on the SAT, and the remaining third will do about the same on either exam. “It is important for students to put their best foot forward when it comes to the college admissions process; exploring which test works best for them can only help students in the long run,” Wilcox noted.

She also said she wants students to know that it is extremely important that they check with the colleges and universities they are interested in to see what exam they accept (most will accept either the SAT or the ACT) and if the essay portion of the exam is required. “Preparation is key for students when it comes to scheduling and taking these exams,” Wilcox explained. “Too often a student waits too long to take one of these exams and is then unable to apply for certain schools or be considered for certain majors.” It’s important to confirm test score submission deadlines for the universities you’re interested in applying to—and register for early exam dates—so you don’t miss those deadlines.

In the end, the best way to prepare for the exams is to take advantage of available SAT practice tests and ACT math and reading practice tests. Getting practice with the format and types of questions will help you discover firsthand how the tests are structured and effectively prepare for the exam date. Remember, earning yourself the highest score possible can significantly increase your chances of getting accepted into your first choice college!

Want to become a part of the campus community at Azusa Pacific University? Visit the school’s website and apply today.