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SAT and ACT FAQs

Man writing at a desk wearing a collared shirt.

What is the difference between the ACT and SAT? 

The ACT is a curriculum-based test. That means that the questions test a student's knowledge about basic content areas. The ACT covers English, reading, math and science. The test is all multiple-choice, but there is an optional writing section which is not scored.

The SAT is designed to test a student's problem-solving and thinking skills. It does not directly test a student's knowledge about reading or math. However, a student will need to know a certain amount of math and reading in order to complete the test. Science is not covered on this test. The SAT is part multiple choice and part writing.

What are the PSAT and SAT Subject Tests?

The PSAT is the Preliminary SAT. This test is similar to the SAT and covers critical thinking, math problem solving and writing skills. This test is typically taken in 10th grade. Students take this test as practice for taking the SAT and to determine where their strengths and weaknesses may be on the SAT. The results of this test are also used to enter a competition for a college scholarship called the National Merit Scholarship. 

The SAT Subject Tests (formally known as SAT II) measure a student's knowledge and skill in particular subject areas. Some colleges require certain SAT Subject Tests, and others use the SAT Subject Tests to place students in courses.

Which test should I take? 

There is no one answer to this question. Some students take one test; others take both. Look at the free practice tests available online. These will help you make a decision about which test to take. Consider the following:

  • Which test results are required by the colleges you are interested in attending?
  • In which content areas do you perform well? If science is not your strength, consider looking at the SAT. If writing is not your strength, consider the ACT.

How much time do I need to prepare for the ACT or SAT? 

The amount of time a student needs to prepare for these tests varies. Note that students must sign up for the test in advance (about six weeks prior to the test). Exam preparation courses usually run about six to ten weeks in length. Students should set aside a certain amount of time each week to study or practice for these tests. It is also recommended that students schedule enough time to take at least one practice test online, at home or through a class to get familiar with the test format, content and types of questions.

eKnowledge produces software to prepare individuals for taking the ACT and SAT. While the programs usually cost over $200, there are almost 200,000 donated programs available online.

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