College Admissions Tests: ACT vs. SAT

Jennifer Explains College Admissions TestsWhich College Admission Test Should I Take?

Many students debate which college admissions test they should take, and I always say, “Take both!” Most students, if not all, take both tests more than once and send their best score to the college of their choice. I do get many questions about the difference between the two and which test is “better.” Though I believe both tests are equally important to take, I have created a chart for you see the difference between both exams.


Differences is college admissions tests:

Material Tested: • Standard high school  curriculum• More advanced math knowledge• Stronger emphasis on punctuation• Science reasoning section tests• Ability to read tables and graphs • General reasoning and problem solving• Stronger emphasis on vocabulary• Requires that students come up with their own answers for some math problems
Format: • Multiple Choice questions• Optional essay • Multiple choice questions• Grid-in questions• Essay prompt
Accepted by: All four year colleges and universities All four year colleges and universities
Length: • 175 minutes, 205 with essay• Per question time: 49 seconds • 200 minutes, 225 with essay• Per question time: 62 seconds
Sections: • English• Mathematics• Reading• Science• Optional Writing section• (Total of five sections) • Reading• Writing• Math• (Total of 10 sections)
Offered: Six times per year• September• October• December• February,• April• June Seven times per year• October• November• December• January• March• May• June
Highest Possible Score: 36 2400
How the test is scored: Each section is scored on a scale of 1 to 36, and the final score is your average. No points are deducted for wrong answers. Each of the sections is worth 800 points, and your composite score is the sum. Points are deducted for wrong answers.
Do colleges automatically see all my scores? No. You can take the ACT multiple times and submit only your best test-date score. That depends. Some colleges require you to submit all your scores. Many allow you to use Score Choice, which lets you choose which test-date score you send.


How are the admissions test fundamentally different?

They are both multi-hour tests that measure your math, grammar, reading comprehension and essay-writing skills, but there are some fundamental differences. While the SAT tries to test a student’s ability to wrestle with a problem, the ACT is designed to test what a student knows. At least, that is the difference in theory. In truth, both the ACT and the SAT require reasoning and knowledge.

Do you want to test reasoning or knowledge?

The other big difference between the admissions tests is that they are created with different philosophies. This might seem strange because both tests are trying to do the same thing (determine a student’s preparedness for college), but the SAT is all about testing your ability to reason. The test writers for the SAT are more than likely to create questions that come across as “tricky,” or, to some students, seem needlessly complex. The ACT, on the other hand, is all about testing your knowledge, so the test writers are more likely to create questions that are straightforward … as long as you know the material being tested! Most ACT questions look like the ones you’ve been doing for homework since freshman year.

It is to your advantage to take both admissions tests. You might find that you score better on one test than the other.  Keep in mind, that most often a college will use your best score from either test when considering your admissions potential.

Jennifer Caballero is the College Admissions Advisor at the Marine Military Academy in Harlingen, TX.  MMA is an all boys private college preparatory boarding school. For more information about MMA visit our website:

Contact the Marine Military Academy