The Difference Between SAT and ACT

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INTRODUCTION: The Scholastic Aptitude Test was first conducted in 1929 in USA. The name was later changed to Scholastic Assessment Test and is now simply called SAT.

American College Testing or ACT was introduced in 1959.

Both are American college entrance tests, required for admission to most of the colleges and universities in the US.

RECOGNITION: SAT is globally recognised as one of the criteria for college admission. ACT is accepted all over the US and its territories as a college admission exam. The results are accepted by all 4 year colleges and universities in the United States.

SKILLS TESTED: The aim of SAT is to test how much you know and how you apply it. The focus of the tests is to assess the how much the student has learned in the previous years at school. Questions are directly related to the coursework. Logic and reasoning are not the focus of the test.

SUBJECTS AREAS: SAT tests the students in the three R’s, reading, writing and math. Knowledge and understanding of Physics, Chemistry and Biology is not assessed.

ACT tests English, Reading, Math and Science, with Writing as an option.

READING: SAT tests the student’s skills in critical reading. On the basis of the given passage the student has to answer multiple choice questions, and complete the given sentences. There are 5 reading passages in a SAT and 4 in ACT.

MATH: SAT tests Arithmetical operations, Algebra 1 and 2, geometry, statistics and probability. In addition to all these the Math in ACT includes Trigonometry. The use of calculators is not permitted. ACT tests more advanced math concepts, but it is not necessarily harder.

WRITING: This section consists of multiple choice questions. It assesses the student’s capacity to identify errors and improve grammar and usage in a given example.

ESSAY: The first task the student has to complete in SAT is writing an essay. The student is expected to spend 25 minutes on the essay. The marks are factored into the writing score. The essay is compulsory and is comprehension focussed.

The ACT assigns an extra 40 minutes to students who opt for the essay section. It is a separate paper and conducted after the compulsory section is completed. Essay scores are listed separately. Most of the colleges require this section. It is inadvisable to skip the essay so most of the students do it. The essay tests the student’s ability to evaluate and analyse complex issues.

FORMAT: The SAT emphasis is on the student’s vocabulary and comprehension skills. Questions need to be carefully considered before attempting to choose the suitable answer. The content area of the paper is broken up into 10 sections, each focusing on a particular subject area. The logic being that switching continuously between subjects impairs the student’s ability to reason effectively.

ACT has 215 multiple choice questions to be completed in 3 and a half hour with a short break in between. The paper does not split the sections between the subject areas. A section will comprise some questions from each area with the intention of keeping the student energised and intellectually alert. So a student is hopping from English to Science to Math to Reading all within the same section. However the questions are all straightforward. The student does not need to spend much time on figuring out what exactly is being asked.

SCORING: ACT scores the student on a scale of 1 to 36 for each section. The final composite score is an average of the scores in the four sections. The composite score also ranges from 1 to 36.

SAT awards 1 point for each correct answer and subtracts ¼ point from the raw sore, for each incorrect answer. No points are awarded for questions not attempted. Sections are scaled independently with maximum marks ranging from 200 to 800. Composite or total scores range from 400 to 1600.

CONCLUSION: Both ACT and SAT is considered equally credible assessments of a student’s knowledge and skills at using that knowledge. Some students perform better at the former while others are more comfortable with the latter.

The SAT of 2016 is revised and the following changes will be introduced.

  • No negative marking
  • Introduction of Trigonometry
  • Essay made optional.

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