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SAT versus ACT: What's the Difference?

Release Date:
2/8/2012 10:28 AM

by Corinne Merjave,
Admissions Counselor

University of New Haven: Taking TestMany students may not realize it, but there is a choice when it comes to standardized testing. Though not all colleges and universities request reporting of a standardized test score, most still do require at least one set of scores to help analyze a student’s academic potential and to grant scholarship money. Depending on where your student attends high school, he or she may not know that there is a choice in which standardized test to take.

The SAT is probably most familiar to students hailing from East or West Coast high schools. High schools in those locations administer the PSAT. Students may benefit from taking the PSAT, so they will know what to expect during testing. Having completed a practice version, students should remember that scores usually increase the second time a student sits for the test. Comprised of ten 20- to 25 minute tests covering the topics of math, critical reading, and writing, the SAT allows for more “breaks” for students between each of the test sections. Each of the three subject areas on the SAT – math, critical reading, and writing – is worth 800 points, allowing for a combined score of 2400 points. Each correct answer is worth one point, an incorrect answer decreases your score by one point, and leaving a question blank will have no effect on points. 

 The ACT is probably more familiar to students hailing from high schools in the Midwest. It is a curriculum-based assessment with materials typically covered in high school, including four different multiple choice tests in English, math, reading, and science, with an optional written essay. Even with the optional writing section, the ACT takes less time to complete than the SAT’s three-plus hours. Each of the four subject tests on the ACT is graded on a scale of 1 to 36. Incorrect answers do not decrease your score. Sub-scores for three subject tests are given as well as a final Composite score. Colleges use the Composite score while sometimes looking at the subject scores to determine a student’s strength or weakness in a particular area. Once a student takes the ACT and gets a feel for the format and content, they will know what to expect during testing. Of those students who retest, 57% increase their Composite score!

 Here at the University of New Haven, we do require one official score report of either the SAT or the ACT. We do not prefer one over the other – it is up to the student as to which test they want to take. Regardless of which test students decide to take, we do recommend that they test at least twice. Whether it is taking the ACT or SAT twice or taking the SAT once and then the ACT once, it is to the student’s benefit to have two sets of scores. 

It never hurts to practice – make sure to do a run-through before sitting down for the real thing! College Board offers free SAT preparation tools at “Preparing for the ACT” is a free guide which includes a full exam and writing prompt, and can be found at