ACT / SAT - a brief insight
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ACT / SAT - a brief insight

Admission Counselling :
  • Written by UnivAdmitHelp
  • Category: Admission Application
  • Published on 25 Feb 2020

Which test should I take? SAT or ACT

One of the most common doubt students has and my answer is simple, please give mock SAT and mock ACT and go ahead with the test with which you are comfortable with. 

Otherwise, the debate between the SAT’s and ACT’s has lasted a long time. 

  • Both the ACT and SAT are accepted by all U.S. colleges. 
  • Both the ACT and the SAT include core sections on Reading, Writing, and Math. 
  • Both tests include an optional essay. 

The US application process is a holistic one where you are assessed at various aspects of your Common Application, your SAT and/or ACT results often act as deciding factors as to whether or not your admission application would be seen in detail by an admissions officer.

Universities are choosing various options with SAT/ACT test :-

  • Test-blind (if applicants apply mentioning the score still schools don’t consider test scores in admissions decisions)
  • Test-optional (whether or not to submit your scores is dependent on applicants)
  • Eliminating the test scores from the application

However, mentioning these scores give you edge over other applicant who have not metioned, especially in test-optional applications. Some schools also use the test scores for class placements.



Recently, The College Board announced that students can start taking the SAT online starting in 2023. There are some significant changes made to the SAT as well, including:

  • A shorter test
  • Additional time given between questions
  • Shorter reading passages
  • Use of calculators for the entire math section

*The SAT takes three hours and consists of three tests: (1) the Reading Test, (2) the Writing and Language Test, and (3) the Math Test. Compared to the ACT®, the SAT provides 43% more time per question:

Component Time Allotted (minutes) Number of Questions/Tasks
Reading 65 52
Writing and Language 35 44
Math 80 58
Total 180 154

* Data Source: College Board

**Whereas incase of Digital SAT, it is composed of two sections: Reading and Writing and Math. Students have 64 minutes to complete the Reading and Writing section and 70 minutes to complete the Math section for a total of 2 hours and 14 minutes. Compared to the ACT®, the SAT provides 68% more time per question:

Component Time Allotted (minutes) Number of Questions/Tasks
Reading and Writing 64 (two 32-minute modules) 54
Math 70 (two 35-minute modules) 44
Total 134 98

**Data Source: College Board

Suffice it to say that between the two tests, the scores are interchangeable thanks to standard conversion tables. In order to find out which tests you would prefer to take, take sample tests and then determine which one agrees with you

  • ACT is a computer adaptive test. Here you attempt a question, if it is right, the next question is more difficult and so on, until you make a mistake, and then you get easier questions. 
  • SAT is a paper based test and reputed to be better suited for “better readers”.
  • The SAT and ACT take turns on months (except in June, October, and December). The ACT is offered 6 times per year and the SAT is offered 7 times per year. It is important to time them well so that they don’t clash with other important events. This is why most students take the exams towards the middle-end of grade 11.
  • Multiple attempts are allowed, and 2-3 attempts are fairly common. you should consider taking the SAT more than once. It will give you the opportunity to demonstrate perseverance, show your growth, and possibly improve your scores. Having two or three SAT scores also allows for more score sending options. Colleges don’t look poorly upon retaking, so don’t worry about it hurting your admission chances. And it can strengthen your application! In fact, 2 out of 3 students raise their scores when they take the SAT a second time. 
  • PSATs are preliminary SATs. Although they might hold the promise for merit scholarships for some, there is no great added value in taking PSATs because at that time the students are not prepared for the test. They haven’t covered much of the ground either. In order to prepare for PSATs, students would have to speed up their learning exponentially, thus reducing the quality of education. Most importantly, the scores do not get added to the SAT total, so it doesn’t hold that much value.
  • Superscore: Across SAT subjects, some colleges allow you to submit a Superscore. This is essentially a compound score of the best from all subjects. You could use this to your advantage, but only in certain cases.

In SAT, you receive a score out of 1600, whereas the ACT scores are out of 36. These scoring numbers are different, there is a simple conversion chart to compare test scores for university admissions.

The Essay

Should I take my tests with the written essay? 

First off, it’s an extra cost, but not that much more. Most universities have done away with essay requirements as well. So if you feel that it’s an added load, you could choose to go without it. But ideally speaking, it’s something that should be attempted. 

If your test score is 1560, or 1560+essay score, don’t you think you’d want the extra advantage? It also showcases you in a good light. It shows your performance under pressure, and also that you’re willing to go the extra mile. 

And can you lose marks by attempting the essay? No. 


SAT Subject Tests 

 Now no more SAT subject tests are discontinued.

The SAT Subject Tests are one-hour-long exams where you can choose the subjects in which you are tested. You select the Subject Test(s) and can take up to three tests in one sitting. There are 20 Subject tests in five general subject areas: English, History, Languages, Mathematics, and Science.  The right time to give these would be in the May - June period. 

For science students, at least two of the following three should be attempted: Physics, Chemistry, Math2. 

For non science students, the mandated number of SAT subjects is 0. You could choose upto two subjects, with English Literature counting for one. 

Did you know UnivAdmitHelp can help you get into top colleges in US and UK? Find out more about our Undergraduate Admission Counselling to see how we can help you gain admission to your dream US or UK university! Check out our results page to find out about our successful UAH students.

The most important aspect of the exam? Timing. If you time it right and choose well, half the battle is won! Good luck!

Further Reading

How to fill the activity section of the Common App?

The value of persistence in securing an admission in a top college

The Honest Answer to Your University Essay Questions

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