With some exceptions, nearly every college accepts either the ACT or the SAT. In my experience, most students do much better on one test than the other. Therefore, I recommend that students take a diagnostic of each test, see which test they achieve a higher score on, and then focus on just that test. It is also important to note that some schools “Superscore,” that is they take the best of each section across multiple attempts and create a new, higher composite score. For this reasons, I advise my students to take the official test 2 or 3 times. Any more than that gets excessive. Whatever the case, the students who begin preparing for these exams in the middle of their Sophomore year, approximately 1 year before taking the tests, score remarkably higher. Moreover, since these assessments are intended to assess successful learning, students with adequate ACT/SAT preparation are better prepared for college as well.

Check out our YouTube tutorials on the ACT/SAT Reading section and the ACT Science section.

Check out our “beyond grammar” YouTube tutorials on the ACT English and SAT Writing & Language sections: word problems, transitional phrases, and redundancy.

ACT:

Test structure:

  • English (5 passages, 75 questions, 45 mins)
  • Math (60 questions of increasing difficulty, 60 mins)
  • Reading (4 passages, 40 questions, 35 mins)
  • Science (7 passages, 40 questions, 35 mins)
  • optional Essay (40 mins)

Content Covered:

  • English (punctuation, grammar and usage, sentence structure, organization, style)
    [1-36 points]
  • Math (Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry) [1-36 points]
  • Reading (main idea, details, sequence of events, comparisons, cause-effect relationships, inferences, generalizations, author’s voice) [1-36 points]
  • Science (critically examine, make comparisons, and draw conclusions from tables and graphs) [1-36 points]
  • optional Essay (evaluate and analyze three different perspectives on an issue, state and develop your own perspective, and explain the relationship between your perspective and those given) [1-6 points from 2 scorers for each of the 4 dimensions: Ideas & Analysis, Development & Support, Organization, and Language Use; total 1-36 points]

What students like about this test: The essay is less abstract and more relevant.

What makes this test difficult: Each section is very long without much time to complete it. Many students feel rushed.

How it differs from the new SAT: The essay is not part of the Composite score; it is used as more of a writing sample for the colleges. The vocabulary is not as difficult as on the SAT.

How it has changed recently: The essay has been lengthened by 5 minutes, is out of 36 points instead of 12, and is based on more real-world topics, rather than high-school related topics.

Which kind of learner should take this test: More concrete thinkers, those good at biology, chemistry, algebra, and trigonometry. Students who excel at logical operations with step-by-step procedures do well on this test.

Minimum scores to reach for: English 29, Math 28, Reading 30, Science 27, Writing 8, Composite 28 (these scores will place in the top 10%)

Date(s) of the test: 6 times per year usually in September, October, December, February, April, and June.

Cost: $54.50 (I advice including Writing, as many college will not accept the ACT score if it was not taken with the essay as well)

Here’s how to register!

New SAT (starting March 2016):

Test structure:

  • Reading (5 passages, 52 questions, 65 mins), Writing and Language (4 passages, 44 questions, 35 mins)
  • Math (20 question 25 mins No Calculator section, 38 question 55 mins Calculator section, 78% Multiple Choice and 22% Grid-ins)
  • optional Essay (50 mins)

Content covered:

  • Reading (meaning of words in context, evidence in passage to support claims, relationship between graphic information and passage, forming reasonable conclusions, consider implications of information) [200-800 points]
  • Writing and Language (recognize errors, correct misinterpretation of data, improve word choice, utilize proper grammar and usage, phrases, and organization)
  • Math (algebra, geometry, data analysis, statistics, probability) [200-800 points]
  • optional Essay (read a roughly 700-word passage, explain how author builds a persuasive argument, support with evidence from passage) [1-4 points from 2 scorers for each of the 3 dimensions: Reading, Analysis, and Writing; total 6-24 points]

What students like about this test: Students often feel like they have plenty of time.

What makes this test difficult: The vocabulary used in the Reading and Writing sections is very difficult. The questions are more abstract.

How it differs from the ACT: There is no Science section, there is a No Calculator Math section, there are grid-in free response questions in the Math section, and Trigonometry is not included in the Math section.

How it has changed recently: There are only 4 answer choices instead of 5, there is no longer a 1/4 point deduction for incorrect answers, the difficult “SAT words” are gone, the experimental section is no longer included, and there is a non-calculator section.

Which kind of learner should take this test: More abstract learners, those good at physics, statistics, geometry, and history. Students who are good readers and writers also do well on this test.

Minimum scores to reach for: Reading and Writing 430, Math 450 (these scores will place in the top 10%)

Date(s) of the test: 7 times per year, usually in October, November, December, January, March, May, and June

Cost: $52.50

How to register: www.sat.collegeboard.org/register