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ACT or SAT: What's the difference?

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By GreatSchools Staff

Is financial aid available for these tests?

For juniors with demonstrated financial need, fee waivers are available for the PSAT. No fee waivers are available for the PLAN. The College Board also offers a maximum of two fee waivers for the SAT and ACT offers a maximum of one fee waiver per student for their test.

How many times should students take these tests?

Students can take either the SAT or ACT as many times as they like. The SAT is given seven times a year while the ACT is given six times. To find out when the test is given check the SAT and ACT calendars. Many students take the tests twice in an effort to improve their scores, once as juniors and once as seniors. Counselors sometimes caution against taking the test more than three times because it's likely to make admissions officers wonder why a student has so much trouble taking a test.

Be aware that while the ACT will only send your best scores, the College Board requires you to send all your SAT scores to the colleges you are applying to. Most college admissions officers say they only look at your best scores. Some interpret this as the best overall score a student gets in one test-taking session. Others will take the best math score and best English score even if they come from different test sessions.

How can elementary and middle school students get on the right track to succeed on these tests?

There are several things students can do.

  • First and foremost, read. Both tests require strong reading comprehension and vocabulary skills. The best way to prepare is to read a variety of materials — books, magazines and newspapers — in addition to texts that are required for school classes.
  • Take challenging courses. Students who take a rigorous course of study are more likely to score high on these tests. Both tests require algebra and geometry. The SAT requires knowledge of statistics and probability while the ACT requires trigonometry. The ACT has a science section. Both tests have questions about literature.
  • Learn test-taking strategies. It's important to have subject-matter knowledge, good reading comprehension and problem-solving skills but it's also important to know how to take tests — when to guess and when not to, how to pace yourself to have time to answer all the questions, how to avoid making careless mistakes. Taking practice tests is a good way to prepare.

Comments from readers

"i would like to know when is the next sat/act testing my son is 17 and getting ready to graduate. "
"my daughter just took the ACT as a 7th grader and scored a 14...her highest score was in the 37th% in plane geometry/trig. It seems to have targeted a very specific area of giftedness...What do you think?"
"Excellent suggestions and ideas!!! I appreciate the 'plans' for a successful opportunity in furthering my child's education."
"I wish that I knew this info about ACT/SAT before my oldest graduated. She opt out of the Written part of her ACT. I think all States should have the ACT as a statewide test and state funding pays for all juniors to take it. Alot of kids don't take these test due to lack of funds."