ACT vs SAT FAQ’s

Which exam, the ACT or the SAT, is better suited to Indian students desirous of studying abroad, especially in the US?

Neither test is ‘easier’ than the other! Some students land up with substantially higher scores on the SAT; others do better on the ACT. At Manya-The Princeton Review we believe that just knowing the differences between the two tests is not enough to figure out which test to take. A student’s strengths and challenges in specific content areas are more relevant factors to determine which test is better suited for him.

A few key differences between the ACT and the SAT

Format and Frequency –  A key difference between the ACT and the SAT is that for students outside North America, the ACT is now an online, computer-based test. The SAT remains a pencil-and-paper test.

In India, the SAT is held on only four days in a year; the ACT is held in 6 testing windows, of two days each, with two testing sessions on each day.

Vocabulary – Vocabulary – Although on the New SAT there aren’t any Sentence Completion questions anymore and consequently students do not have to memorize the meanings of a large number of obscure or esoteric words, effective SAT preparation still requires a good vocabulary. The ACT is still less vocab-intensive than the new SAT. However, students cannot base their decision only on this one aspect.

Math – With the advent of the new SAT, even SAT now contains additional math concepts such as Trigonometry and Complex Numbers. The ACT tests concepts such as Matrices and Logarithms in addition to Trigonometry and Complex Numbers. All other math topics are almost the same – Arithmetic, Algebra, and Geometry. However, the ACT Math questions are more straight-forward. The SAT questions, on the other hand, are often trickier and more wordy and require more careful reading.

Science -– The ACT has a ‘science’ test but the SAT does not. Before jumping to a conclusion, students need to know that the ACT does not test any scientific formulae or theories. The Science Test, in fact, tests a student’s reading and reasoning skills based on a given set of facts. If reading science passages really stresses a student, the SAT might be a better fit although there will be some science related content interspersed throughout the New SAT too.

Essay – Although the Essay is optional both on the ACT and the SAT, the two essay tasks are quite different. On the ACT, the task is to present one’s own views on a topic (of about 100 words) in the context of three perspectives given in the prompt. On the SAT, the task is to analyze a speech or a written piece (of about 500-700 words) from the points of usage of evidence and rhetoric.

Please click here for more detailed comparison between the ACT and the SAT

Which other countries accept the scores of these tests?

Whether a particular country accepts both SAT and ACT scores depends on the program, specialization, and university and cannot be generalized in all cases (except in the case of US). Undergraduate applicants must make it a point to thoroughly peruse a particular university’s requirements to find out whether both the tests are accepted or only SAT or ACT scores are accepted. For instance, the University of Oxford accepts both ACT and SAT scores, while NUS Singapore requires SAT and SAT Subject test scores from candidates who have studied Class XII from a Board other than CBSE and ICSE.

Do colleges and universities abroad give equal importance to the ACT and the SAT?

Since 2007, all 4 year colleges in the US accept either ACT or SAT scores, and no college in the US declares a preference for either test. For the last three years the number of ACT test takers has surpassed the number of SAT test takers. Applicants should attempt the test on which they are confident of performing better.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of these two tests, especially for Indian students?

The obvious advantage of taking either test is that students can apply to undergraduate schools abroad and widen their undergrad education opportunities. There is no real disadvantage in taking either test. The important consideration here is to assess which test is the student more likely to score better on. If a student is not comfortable with either the test format or content of the ACT or SAT, then this will certainly become a disadvantage for him. Manya-The Princeton Review recommends that students evaluate some test format differences that can impact their scores.

The SAT has 4 answer choices per question but students get more time overall to attempt the test, while the ACT has 4 answer choices in sections other than Math ( Math questions have 5 answer choices), but less overall time per question. On the SAT students have more time per question, but harder SAT questions may need more time to read, understand, and solve the questions.

Most Indian students tend to get confused between the two tests. What would be your advice to these students?

It is not advisable to prepare for both the tests! The SAT and the ACT require different strategies and preparation. In order to assess which test a student is likely to do better on, Manya-The Princeton Review offers a free assessment ( known as The Princeton Review StartUp Test) to all students. It is an seven-part practice exam that includes over three hours of questions divided between the SAT and the ACT. Scoring charts show how students can expect to do on the ACT or the SAT, and those results can guide students in selecting the exam on which they are most likely to get a better score!.

For more information about the StartUp Test click here

How should Indian students prepare for the ACT or the SAT?

Both the ACT and the SAT are standardized American tests, hence it’s very important for students to work with relevant material that comes from a reputed source rather than work only on concepts from generic material. Specific strategies and techniques are required to score high on these tests, so a blend of content and test prep strategies, along with full length tests and test analysis by an ACT/SAT test prep expert will go a long way in helping students score high on the test they decide to take

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