ACT/SAT Difference

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In March of 2016, the SAT was dramatically changed to have a layout very similar to the ACT. The ACT is the harder of the two tests, so preparing for the ACT also prepares a student for the SAT in many ways. Unfortunately, the vice versa is not true. Because the SAT is easier, training for the SAT does not necessarily prepare a student for the ACT.

"Our school didn’t encourage us to take the ACT and I didn’t look into things early enough. At least we are focused now so hopefully we aren’t too late."

- Email from a mom (May, 2017)

"He took the ACT and SAT. He prepared for the SAT not realizing that the SAT was a lot easier than the ACT. He was unprepared for the speed of the ACT."

- Email from another mom (May, 2017)

"Some colleges have told us that they may no longer use the new SAT for admissions."

– Phone call from a Central Illinois superintendent (May, 2017)

All colleges and universities in the USA are required to report various statistics to the federal government. One of the categories the government tracks is what scores students submitted on their college applications. The following are percentages from selected schools in Illinois.

Percentage of students submitting ACT scores on their college applications:

University of Illinois – Champaign 85%
University of Illinois – Springfield 94%
Illinois State University 99%
Eastern Illinois University 98%
Northern Illinois University 98%
Western Illinois University 98%
Southern Illinois University - Carbondale 97%
Southern Illinois University – Edwardsville 99%
Bradley University 95%
Millikin University 95%
Illinois Wesleyan University 90%
Northwestern University 71%

The following are the percentages for major Midwest schools:

University of Iowa 92%
Iowa State University 93%
University of Wisconsin 87%
Indiana University 67%
Purdue University 59%
Ohio State University 84%
University of Kentucky 93%
University of Tennessee 93%
University of Michigan 84%
Michigan State University 82%
University of Missouri 95%

Consider the following facts.

  • The ACT has been the most popular college admissions exam in Illinois and the Midwest since the 60s.
  • Even though the Illinois State Board of Education administered a free SAT exam to public school juniors in the spring of 2017, the ACT still outperformed the SAT in Illinois when comparing the number of students taking a college admissions test on a national Saturday test date. For every student that took the SAT, ten students took the ACT. It was not even close!
  • In 2011 the ACT surpassed the SAT as the most popular exam in the country and still is today.
  • The ACT is the most popular exam internationally with over 130 countries administering the ACT every year.

College-bound students compete against other students. Colleges compete against each other for those same students. For a college-bound student to be competitive, they should prepare for the ACT.

There is nothing wrong with a student taking the SAT, especially if your state public school association (i.e. Illinois) is offering a “free” SAT exam. My daughters have taken the SAT. We simply used those performances to help them prepare for the ACT.

Learn more by downloading a free copy of the Parent Guide: Conquering the ACT.

If your state is offering a free SAT in the spring, learn how to use that to maximize your ACT performance by using this suggested timeline.

The ACT scores faster

The ACT is the fastest scoring college admissions test. The ACT starts posting scores online just ten days after the test is given. The SAT takes over one month! If your student is taking the state SAT test in April then it takes even longer – 45+ days!!!

Why does that matter? Since the ACT releases scores so quickly, students have time to decide whether or not they need to take the test again and still have time to register for the next ACT test.

Unfortunately, because the SAT takes so long, registration deadlines for the next test will have already passed.

The ACT sends actual test answers faster

There are three national ACT test dates that allow you to purchase a copy of the test and a copy of your student’s actual answers. This is invaluable! A student can learn a lot from their mistakes. The ACT calls it a Test Information Release and this service is offered for the national April, June, and December ACT tests.

The SAT offers this as well. It is called the Question and Answer Service. This is available for the national October, March, and May SAT test dates. However, that is a difference.

The ACT sends their package out a lot faster. Usually, students receive them in just four weeks, which is plenty of time to use them to prepare for the next test.

The SAT, however, takes A LOT longer: up to five months!!! By the time the students receive them, then it is too late to use because most likely the student has already taken another SAT or ACT by that time.

Now you should have a better idea why most college-bound students prefer the ACT over the SAT.