Entrance Exams: SAT and ACT

Many American Colleges and Universities require students to submit a score from a standardized test, commonly the SAT or the ACT. Both tests have their pros and cons and recently some students have been taking both tests and submitting both scores. This is not necessary. In fact, some schools are shifting to being test-optional. You can find the list of test-optional or test-flexible schools at Fair Test. However, just because a school says that it doesn’t require an entrance test, doesn’t mean that they don’t consider students who have submitted test scores. The advantage to submitting an SAT or ACT is that it legitimizes your grades. If you are attending high school outside of the United States and your high school’s standards may be unknown to the admissions committee, the standardized test can provide evidence of your academic ability.


The SAT is the oldest and best known of the tests, and is administered by the College Board. The test underwent a radical change in March of 2016 and so be careful about buying study materials that were published prior to 2015. The SAT has been criticized for having “tricky” questions and being overly long, but the length is a result of giving students more time to complete each question.

SAT Break Down


The SAT is now composed of 5 sections  Reading, Writing & Language, No Calculator Math, Math and Essay.

Reading– the Reading section has 5 passages (1 literature, 2 science passages, 1 social science passage and 1 passage that refers to a historical document) The Reading section is combined with the Writing & Language section to form a score out of 800

Writing & Language-the Writing & Language section is a series of 4 passages with questions that focus on grammar  and stylistic conventions. This section is combined with the Reading section to form a score out of 800.

No Calculator Math-This part of the Math test consists of 20 questions (some multiple choice and some grid-in questions) for which you cannot use a calculator. This section combined with the other Math section form a score of 800.

Math– The regular Math section consists of 38 Questions (some multiple choice and some grid-in questions). You are free to use a calculator for this section. This section combined with the other Math section form a score of 800.

Essay-The essay is presented as an optional part of the test, but you should plan to complete the essay. The option is exercised by the colleges and universities, not by the students. The Essay requires students to read and evaluate a given persuasive essay. The essay is a separate score in addition to your composite score out of 1600. The Essay is scored on 3 criteria–Reading, Analysis and Writing. Each is given a score between 2 and 8 on each of the criteria.

Scoring– You will receive several scores from the test with the key scores being your composite score out of 1600 plus your Essay score which is reported as 8/8/8. For example if I scored 650 in the Reading and Writing & Language sections, 550 on the Math sections, my composite score would be 1300/1600 and Essay 7/6/8. Your desired score will depend on the school you wish to attend, but in general the average score is about 1100 and a solid score would be 1250+ and an excellent score would be 1450+. A solid essay would be 6/6/6 and above.


The ACT test began in the American mid-west and has in recent years become more popular because it appears to be a more straightforward test. While the test questions are considered clearer, there is a tight time limit that doesn’t leave a lot of time to think about each question. The ACT is administered by ACT.org.

ACT Break Down

The ACT is composed of 5 sections- English, Math, Reading, Science, and Essay.

English– the English section is a grammar and writing test. A series of passages are presented with underlined sections that present grammar and stylistic errors. 75 questions in 45 minutes and scored on a scale of 1-36

Math– The math section tests math skills up to grade 12. 60 questions in 60 minutes and scored on a scale of 1-36

Reading– the Reading section is composed of a series of passages with multiple choice questions. 40 questions in 35 minutes and scored on a scale of 1-36

Science– The Science section is a series of descriptions of scientific studies with accompanying data, graphs and charts. The test is really mostly a reading test and while science knowledge will facilitate you are ability to understand the passages , it isn’t necessary to do well on the test. 40 questions in 35 minutes and scored on a scale of 1-36

Essay– the ACT Essay was revised in 2015 and so you should be wary of materials produced before September 2015. The essay presents a complex argument with 3 points of view and asks you to evaluate each point of view and then present your own opinion. The Essay is scored separately from the rest of the test with a scale of 2-12.

Scoring-The first 4 sections each are scored individually on a scale of 1-36 and then those 4 scores are averaged giving you a final score out of 36. The essay score is kept separate from the averaged score. An average score for the ACT is in the range of 20-24, a good score is 25-31 and an excellent score is above 32. A solid essay score would be 8.

SAT or ACT that is the question

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