ACT VS SAT: How Can Parents of Graduates Help Them Choose?

The path to college often involves navigating a maze of standardized tests, the most common being the ACT (American College Testing) and SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test). These exams play a significant role in college admissions, with scores frequently as a deciding factor for admission committees.

Can Parents of Graduates Help Them Choose

Explanation of SAT

The SAT is another popular standardized test structured into two main sections, with an optional third:

  1. Evidence-Based Reading and Writing: This section is further divided into Reading and Writing and Language Tests. The Reading Test has 52 questions and lasts 65 minutes, while the Writing and Language Test lasts 44 and 35 minutes.
  2. Math: This section is divided into two parts: one that allows calculator use (38 questions, 55 minutes) and one that doesn’t (20 questions, 25 minutes).
  3. Optional Essay: Students who choose to take the essay have 50 minutes to complete it. If you need more assistance or time, you can explore options to pay for essay to get an idea of proper writing. It can help to improve your performance.

Scoring System

The SAT is scored on a scale of 400 to 1600, with 1600 being the highest possible score. The Evidence-Based Reading, Writing, and Math sections have a maximum score of 800. The optional essay is scored separately and does not contribute to the total score.

Explanation of ACT

The ACT is a standardized test consisting of four main sections: English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science. Each section assesses a student’s knowledge and skills in these areas.

  1. English Section: This section has 75 questions and lasts for 45 minutes. It assesses students’ understanding of standard written English and rhetorical skills.
  2. Mathematics Section: This section has 60 questions and lasts for 60 minutes. It covers topics such as algebra, geometry, and trigonometry.
  3. Reading Section: This section has 40 questions and lasts for 35 minutes. It tests reading comprehension.
  4. Science Section: This section has 40 questions and lasts for 35 minutes. It measures interpretation, analysis, evaluation, reasoning, and problem-solving skills.

There’s also an optional writing test, which lasts for 40 minutes, where students write an essay.

Scoring System

The ACT is scored on a scale of 1 to 36, with 36 being the highest possible score. Each of the four tests is scored individually; then, the scores are averaged to get the composite score. The optional writing test is scored separately on a scale of 2-12.

Differences between ACT and SAT

While both tests cover reading, writing, and math, the ACT includes a science section, which the SAT does not have. This science section doesn’t test specific scientific facts or concepts but assesses a student’s ability to interpret and analyze scientific data.

Scoring Differences

The scoring systems for both tests are different. As mentioned earlier, the SAT’s maximum score is 1600, while the ACT’s is 36. Also, the SAT penalizes wrong answers, while the ACT does not.

Time Allocation Per Section

Generally, the SAT provides more time per question than the ACT. For instance, in the reading section, SAT test-takers get approximately 75 seconds per question, while ACT test-takers get about 53 seconds per question. This difference could be significant for students who require more time to process and answer questions.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Between ACT and SAT

Choosing between the ACT and SAT involves considering several factors, including a student’s academic strengths and weaknesses, college requirements, test availability and location, and cost and financial aid options.

Student’s Academic Strengths and Weaknesses

Every student has unique strengths and weaknesses academically, and understanding these can help determine which test is more suitable. For instance, students strong in science might lean towards the ACT due to its dedicated science section. On the other hand, a student with more substantial reading and writing skills might prefer the SAT, which emphasizes these skills more.

College Requirements

Before deciding on a test, it’s crucial to research the admissions requirements of the colleges a student is interested in. Most colleges accept both ACT and SAT scores, but some may have a preference. Certain colleges also require or recommend specific subject tests only offered by the SAT.

Test Availability and Location

The availability of the test dates and locations can also influence the decision. Both tests are offered multiple times throughout the year, but availability might differ depending on the region or country. It’s essential to check both exams’ test dates and locations to ensure they align with the student’s schedule and accessibility.

Cost and Financial Aid Availability

The ACT and SAT come with registration fees, which can be a significant consideration for some families. It’s essential to look into the costs of each test, including additional fees for late registration or changes to the test date or center. Financial aid is available for both tests, but the eligibility requirements and the amount of aid can vary. Therefore, understanding the financial implications can be critical in the decision-making process.

How Parents Can Support Their Child’s Decision

Parents play a vital role in supporting their child’s decision to take the ACT or SAT. Here’s how they can help:

Helping Them Understand Their Strengths and Weaknesses

Parents can assist their children in identifying their academic strengths and weaknesses. This understanding can help determine which test might be more suitable for them. Encouraging the child to take practice tests for both the ACT and SAT can provide a clearer picture of where their strengths lie.

Assisting in Research About Colleges and Their Test Preferences

Parents can help their children research potential colleges and their admission requirements. Some colleges may prefer one test over the other, and this information can influence the decision on which test to take.

Providing Resources for Preparation

Parents can support their child’s preparation by providing study materials and resources. This could include textbooks, flashcards, online tutorials, and prep books. They could also consider enrolling their child in a test prep course.

Emotional Support and Encouragement

The process of preparing for these tests can be stressful for students. Parents can offer emotional support, encourage breaks, and remind their children that it’s okay to ask for help. Maintaining a positive and supportive environment can significantly help reduce stress and increase motivation.

Preparation Strategies for Both Exams

Study Plans and Resources

Creating a study plan involves setting aside regular study times, deciding on which areas to focus on each week, and routinely reviewing past material. Utilize official guidebooks, online forums, and educational websites offering practice questions and detailed explanations.

Dealing with Test Anxiety

Test anxiety can negatively impact performance. Learning relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation is essential. Maintaining a regular workout routine and adhering to a nutritious diet can also aid in controlling stress levels. On test day, arriving early, reading all instructions carefully, and taking breaks, if allowed, can help manage anxiety.

Practice Tests

Practice tests are one of the most effective preparation strategies. They help familiarize students with the test format, question types, and time constraints. Regularly taking full-length practice tests can help identify weak areas that need more focus and give a realistic understanding of the testing experience.


Choosing between the ACT and SAT is a significant decision that can impact a student’s college admission process. With the proper understanding, consideration of important factors, and parental support, students can make an informed choice that best suits their abilities and goals. Remember, the goal is not just to choose a test but to perform well on it. With the proper preparation and mindset, success is within reach.

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