The New SAT or the ACT: Which One to Take?

The New SAT or the ACT: Which One to Take?

The College Board’s New Redesigned SAT (effective March 2016) came with substantial changes from the old SAT. If you are taking the SAT for the first time or planning to take it again to improve your score, then you must understand the test pattern. This revised SAT allows you to guess on the questions asked – because there is no negative marking for wrong answers! In addition, there’s no need to learn obscure SAT words. The essay is optional. There is a lot more to learn about the New SAT changes and if you want to know more, please check our earlier blog.

Then there is the ACT

The ACT, another standardized paper-and-pencil test, is also accepted by US colleges for admission to undergraduate courses.

Which test to take?

It is totally up to you whether to go for the ACT or the SAT. Where colleges are concerned, both these tests are equally accepted for purposes of admission.  What really matters are how you perform on the test you take. Both the SAT and the ACT have evolved over time, so it would be best to take a diagnostic test to examine your potential on both the tests before taking the final call.

Apart from the scores, schools also take into account your high school GPA, academic transcripts, letters of recommendation, interviews, and personal essays.

Here are some quick facts about the two tests.

Content/ Subjects English, Math, Reading, and Science Reading, Writing & Language, and Math
Penalty for wrong answers No penalty No penalty
Essay Optional Optional
Duration 2 hours 55 minutes (without essay)
3 hours 35 minutes (with essay)
3 hours (without essay)
3 hours 50 minutes (with essay)
No. of Reading Passages Four Five
Use of Calculator Can use for all math questions Not allowed for some questions
Scored on a scale of 1 to 36 400 to1600


Here is a table comparing the structures of the two tests


Section Time Allotted (minutes) No. of Question/ Tasks
English 45 75
Math 60 60
Reading 35 40
Science 35 40
Total 175 215
Writing(Optional) 40 1 Task


Section Time Allotted (minutes) No. of Question/ Tasks
Reading 65 52
Writing & Language 35 44
Math (without calculator) 25 20
Math (with calculator) 55 38
Total 180 154
Essay (Optional) 50 1 Task


A few other points to consider

– The ACT requires you to answer more questions, and it gives you less time per question. The questions may, however, be less complex and more straightforward as compared to the questions on the SAT. This is true for every part of the exam.

– SAT Math questions are often wordy and require you to put some effort into understanding the question.

– The Reading (comprehension) questions on the SAT are a little more nuanced and subtle than those on the ACT.

– The ACT has a Science test, while the SAT does not. ACT Science tests comprehension and data interpretation, not your knowledge of Science concepts. But it does test the skills you need in the sciences. As the ACT says, it “measures the interpretation, analysis, evaluation, reasoning, and problem-solving skills required in the natural sciences”. So consider what you feel about the sciences before you choose.

The Princeton Review Start Up Test

Manya-The Princeton Review has a ready tool to help you decide — The Princeton Review StartUp test! The StartUp Test is a tool designed to help you determine which test is a better fit with your abilities. The test gives you a taste of the two exams and produces a report that shows how you perform on different types of questions.

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