The ACT vs. the SAT

The ACT and the SAT are the two most prominent standardized tests used for college admissions. Until recently, the ACT was required by colleges and universities in the Midwest, while the SAT was used by schools along the coasts and in the Northeast. This no longer applies, and today nearly all colleges will accept either test score for admission.

The ACT is a content-based test, and includes sections on English, Reading, Math, and Science. It has an optional Writing portion, which is required by some colleges. Many experts believe the ACT is a better measure of a student's retention of high school curriculum because it is more content-oriented. The SAT, on the other hand, is often considered to be more of an intelligence test because it focuses on a student's problem-solving and reasoning abilities. The SAT includes Reading, Math, and a required Writing portion.

The following chart diagrams the major differences between the two tests:

Guessing Strategy  No penalty for wrong answers One-fourth point penalty for wrong answers
Score Reporting Only specified scores sent to specified schools All scores sent to specified schools
Math Tests Algebra II and Trig Tests basic Algebra II (does not test Trig)
English Emphasizes grammar Tests grammar, usage, and word choice
Writing Optional essay Required essay
Science Required science section Does not test science
Reading Reading passages in English, Reading, and Science sections; no sentence completions Reading passages in Reading sections only; sentence completion questions
Question Format All multiple choice Multiple choice and 10 “Grid-in” questions

Most students today are taking both tests multiple times. If you plan to only take one test, we recommend that you do a bit of research to determine whether that test should be the ACT or the SAT. First, check with the colleges and universities to which you plan to apply. The admissions department may require one or the other, and may also offer scholarships based on scores from a specific test. If the college accepts both tests, analyze your strengths; students who are strong in math and science typically do well on the ACT, while students who excel in English and literature perform better on the SAT. You should also take an ACT and an SAT practice test to see which test plays to your strengths. You can download a free ACT test from the ACT website and a free SAT test from the College Board website.

Welcome to our Free ACT Help and Self Study area. On the pages below you will find articles, free materials, advice and other information designed to increase your understanding of the ACT and the college admissions process.

Good luck preparing for the ACT!