What You Need to Know (or not) About sats and acts

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What You Need to Know (or not) About SATs and ACTs

  • December 2010

College Admissions Testing

  • SAT was traditionally and East Coast test and ACT a West Coast Test
  • SAT more common in the area, but ACT participation has increased dramatically
  • Most colleges accept both scores
  • Some colleges do not require admissions testing or may use it for course placement
  • Two-year programs do not require testing

What is the SAT

  • First administered in 1926
  • Originally an acronym for Scholastic Aptitude Test
  • Now just a “brand” – College Board refers to it as a test of critical thinking skills

What is the ACT?

  • First administered in 1959 in response to t the SAT
  • ACT Inc claims that it measures aptitude and achievement
  • More closely tracks HS curriculum

Notes on Both

  • The correlation between SAT and ACT scores is between .89 and .92
  • This means that most students will perform similarly on both tests
  • There can be huge differences for some students
  • ACT has “score choice”. SAT has “score choice” at colleges who permit it.
  • SAT
  • ACT
  • Length
  • 3 hours and 45 minutes in 10 sections (one experimental)
  • 3 hours and 25 minutes in four sections (plus 30 minutes if taking essay)
  • English/
  • Writing
  • Three sections
  • 25 min Essay
  • 25 min multiple choice (35 Questions)
  • 10 min multiple choice (14 Questions)
  • One Section
  • 45 min multiple choice (75 questions)
  • Reading
  • Three sections
  • Two 25 minute sections
  • One 20 minute section
  • Sentence completion and passage comprehension
  • Math
  • Three sections
  • Two 25 minute sections
  • One 20 minute section
  • Multiple choice and grid in
  • No Trig
  • One section
  • 60 minutes for 60 questions
  • Small amount of trig
  • Science
  • Not standard – can be assessed through SAT Subject Test, which assesses course knowledge
  • One section
  • 35 minutes
  • 40 questions
  • Read experiment summaries and data sets to interpret data and draw conclusions
  • Essay
  • First Section
  • Part of Writing Score and Composite
  • Last Section
  • Optional Test – reported separately from composite
  • Given
  • Seven times per year
  • Six times per year


  • Take SAT if:
  • You have time management issues
  • Want a more “macro” essay question
  • Are a good writer since it is factored into composite score
  • Take ACT if:
  • Writing essay first will drain energy
  • Want essay optional and not factored into composite
  • Want a more direct essay question


  • Take ACT if:
  • Fast reader
  • Good at skimming text
  • Weaker vocabulary
  • Need more predictability


  • Take SAT if:
  • Can solve problems multiple ways
  • Like “mental sprints”
  • Can combine math from different levels
  • Good reasoning and critical thinking
  • Take ACT if:
  • Good familiarity of classroom math
  • Benefit from straightforward questions


  • Take ACT if:
  • Good at interpreting info and making conclusions
  • Good score here can pull up composite


  • SAT is:
  • More vocab heavy
  • Math requires reasoning and combined concepts
  • Essay required and part of total score
  • More sections that are shorter in length
  • Switch between tested areas
  • Schools will look at section scores AND total score
  • Fewer charts and data sets
  • Requires careful reading on all sections
  • Good for good test takers with good strategies
  • ACT is:
  • More straightforward
  • Assess reasoning through science
  • More advanced math, but only a few questions
  • Essay optional
  • Fewer sections that are longer
  • All questions in an area presented at one time
  • More “big picture” – total score most important
  • Good for students who work hard and benefit from review of concepts
  • Good for students who need predictability


  • Accommodations available on both tests
  • Not flagged on score reports
  • Most common is 50% Extended Time (Time and a Half)
  • All other accommodations are much harder to obtain
  • Having accommodation in school does not mean you will receive it on SAT or ACT

Sample Accommodations

  • Extended Time
  • Use of a computer (no spell or grammar check)
  • Scribe
  • Enlarged print
  • Enlarged scantron
  • Longer breaks
  • Individual testing
  • Testing over multiple days
  • Braille
  • Small group testing
  • Reader

How to Apply for Accommodations SAT

  • Complete consent form with case manager (by Spring of 10th grade)
  • Case Manager will apply online
  • Takes 6+ weeks for approval depending on documentation needed
  • Will be notified by mail and email to Case Manager
  • Will be assigned SSD Number that can be used when registering for all PSAT, SAT and AP tests through graduation

How to Apply for Accommodations ACT

  • Decide on testing date
  • Go to ACT.ORG and search for students with disabilities
  • Complete application for Extended Time National Testing or Special Testing
  • Both forms have sections to be completed at school by case manager and may need documentation
  • Both forms have different submission directions and addresses
  • Must be done EARLY!

How to Increase the Odds of Being Approved

  • Apply early to allow time to submit additional documentation or to appeal
  • Have updated assessments and/or documentation (within three years for testing and within one for medical and psychiatric diagnoses)
  • The accommodations need to be used regularly in school

Other Options to SAT/ACT

  • Score Optional Colleges (fairtest.org): These schools do not require SAT or ACT for admission. Some may request it for course placement only (in lieu of placement testing)
  • Two-Year Colleges: Most have transfer agreements with several to many prestigious four year programs as long as the student achieves certain criteria (like GPA).

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