What is the ACT/SAT?

Many colleges base admissions decisions in part on the results of standardized tests called the ACT and the SAT tests. Juniors and seniors in high school take these tests to demonstrate their readiness for college-level work and predict future academic success. But they do so in very different ways:

What is the difference between the ACT/SAT?


The ACT is an achievement test that measures what a student already knows. It covers material that the student should have learned during high school, and is broken into four areas: English, mathematics, reading, science, and an optional writing test. The ACT is scored based on the number of correct answers with no penalty for guessing. Additionally, the ACT has an Interest Inventory that allows students to evaluate their interests in various career options.


The SAT tests a student’s aptitude, testing reasoning, and verbal abilities. It is used as a predictor of what a student is capable of learning and deals with material that the student may NOT have learned in high school. The SAT consists of three sections: Critical Reading, Math, and Writing, and points are deducted for incorrect answers.

Which test should students take?

Some students do better on the ACT test—especially if they tend to struggle with standardized tests—while others do better on the SAT test. Most colleges accept either test score, so many students take both exams to improve their chances of being admitted.

  • ACT questions are often easier to understand on a first read. Here’s an example:

    • SAT: What is your view of the claim that something unsuccessful can still have some value?

    • ACT: In your view, should high schools become more tolerant of cheating?

  • If students are good with words and have the strong verbal ability, they’ll likely do well on the SAT.

  • The Science section on the ACT is meant to test students’ reading and reasoning skills based on a given set of facts. If students are science-phobic, the SAT may be a better fit.

  • The ACT tests basic arithmetic, Algebra I and II, Geometry, and Trigonometry. The ACT Math section is not necessarily harder, since many students find the questions to be more straightforward than those on the SAT.

  • The 25-minute SAT essay is required and is factored into your writing score. The 30-minute ACT writing test is optional. Should a student choose to take it, it will not be included in their composite score — yet schools will see it.

Students should speak to their counselor for guidance on which test is best for him or her.

How often should students take the test?

  • Students can take the ACT or SAT test multiple times. Colleges allow students to submit only their highest score, so students should not worry if their score drops when they retake the test.

  • Research shows that more than 50% of students who take the ACT test a second time improve their scores. But according to the people who administer the SAT test, there's no evidence that shows that retaking the SAT test significantly changes scores.

Students should direct any questions about retesting to the college's Admissions Office and Financial Aid Office.

What do scores mean?

College admissions officers care about how well students do on each section of the SAT. On the ACT, they're mostly concerned with students’ composite scores. If a student is weak in one content area but strong in others, they may still end up with a very good ACT score and thus make a strong impression on the admissions committee

How much does it cost?

Costs differ depending on the test a student takes. The SAT is $51 and the ACT is $36.50 ( $52.50 with writing). Students who cannot afford the testing fee are eligible for up to 2 fee waivers for the SAT/ACT (making a total of 4 waivers total).
Students may obtain a fee waiver from their school counselor, AACE, PACT, or other college programs.

Where can students sign up?

Visit to register online to take the SAT test. To register for the ACT, go to

Testing Preparation


The Khan Academy offers free online SAT test preparation for the redesigned SAT: Khan Academy SAT Preparation


Study Guides (some people call them cram packets) 

 ACT Science Study Guide.

ACT English Study Guide.

SAT Math Study Guide.

SAT Writing and Language Packet

Here are a few useful blog posts:

Bet You Don't Know How Important this English Rule Can Be on the SAT & ACT

Dispatches from Saturday's ACT: That Math Was Killer

Four Perfect ACT Strategies For Tomorrow

Understanding the New ACT Score Report

The Oft-Ignored Way to Higher SAT and ACT Scores

You Won’t Believe This Hack of a “Difficult” ACT Math Problem

Your PSAT Scores Are Back: Time To Use Them!

Your Must-Do Last-Minute SAT Prep

Taking the SAT This Saturday? Here's a Must-Watch Strategy

The Wrong Way to Study for the ACT and SAT


Sign-up for free daily SAT test questions sent to your phone directly from the CollegeBoard: SAT Daily Preparation App

Take a practice SAT test from the CollegeBoard: SAT Practice Test

Practice SAT subject test questions from the CollegeBoard: SAT Subject Test Practice

Let the CollegeBoard tell you exactly what's on the SAT test: What's on the SAT?


A guide on how to prepare for the ACT test: ACT Guide

A Spanish version of the guide to prepare for the ACT test: Spanish SAT Guide

SAT & ACT FREE ONLINE PREPARATION WITH NUMBER2 PENCIL's online test preparation courses are totally free! By creating an account you can access a customized course that includes user-friendly tutorials, practice sessions that dynamically adapt to each student's ability level, and a vocabulary builder.

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