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Five Things to Know About the ACT and SAT Tests

One of the first steps in preparing to go to college is choosing which test to take—the ACT or SAT. Read on for a rundown of the differences between these harbingers of fate.

1. The Standards: The purpose of both tests is to provide colleges with a common standard with which to compare all applicants. The ACT covers four subjects (English, mathematics, reading, and science) and includes an optional writing portion. The SAT has three subjects (math, critical reading, and writing) plus a mandatory essay.

2. The Scores: According to The Princeton Review, the ACT gives college admissions offices a better ""big picture"" view of a student's strengths. The highest score possible on the ACT is a 36, which is a composite of all the subjects. Students can score between 1 and 36 points on each subject, and those four scores are averaged together to give a final score. The SAT gives 200–800 points in each subject and is used to show the student's individual proficiencies.

3. The Subjects: The science portion of the ACT isn't exactly what it sounds like—students don't need to brush up on chemical reactions and ghost-hunting methods beforehand. Instead, the science section actually assesses how students read and reason based upon a given set of facts, often incorporating charts and graphs. The other main difference in content is that the ACT also covers trigonometry in addition to the arithmetic, algebra, and geometry skills highlighted in both exams.

4. The Skills: Because of the way the SAT is designed, the test can be ""tricked"" by implementing certain strategies. With questions that can be difficult to interpret on the first read-through, the SAT relies more on vocabulary and reasoning skills to determine the correct answers, so students can learn behaviors that make the exam easier to interpret. The ACT, however, features more straightforward questions that test a student's general knowledge of the high-school curriculum.

5. The Styles: Multitaskers may be better suited to the SAT, which bounces back and forth between different subjects throughout its 10 sections. The ACT, meanwhile, tackles subjects one at a time in four large chunks, a boon for students who prefer to finish a single task before moving on.

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