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  • Debra M. Shively

The SAT and ACT Standardised Tests - Updated

Updated: Oct 15, 2021

As part of the US undergraduate application requirement to most four year institutions, students are required to submit a standardised test score, either the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) or American College Test (ACT), both of which are administered privately and outside of school hours. Both tests are assessing competencies in comprehensive reading and writing and maths – the ACT also has a testing section on science which does require knowledge in the subject matter, however, many of the questions are analysis and interpretation based. Both tests have an optional writing component required for admission purposes by some institutions.

The College Board, who administers the SAT, announced in February 2017 that it will be reducing SAT testing dates outside of the US from six to four per year in an effort to enhance test security. This significant reduction in international testing dates makes it crucial for students to plan ahead if they anticipate sitting the SAT. The SAT Test will now be offered in the months of: March, May, October and December. Additional testing dates for the subject tests only will be available in November and June (see below). A reminder, students are not permitted to sit the SAT and the SAT Subject Tests on the same testing date. For further information on Subject Tests, please refer to our previous article.

The ACT offers five international testing dates in 2017 as outlined below:

  • 8 April

  • 10 June

  • 9 September

  • 28 October

  • 9 December

A summary table of the SAT and the ACT tests as written in a previous Internationally Educated article is below:

SAT	ACT Subject matter, allotted time, and number of questions	Math- (80 minutes 58 questions)  •	Algebra, advanced math, problem solving, data analysis 	Math-(60 minutes 60 questions) •	Algebra, geometry, arithmetic, Trigonometry  	Reading Test (65 minutes 52 questions) •	Comprehension and Interpretation based on a provided passage + graphs, charts and pictures •	10 relevant ‘words of context’ vocabulary words	Reading (35 minutes 40 questions)  •	Comprehension and interpretation based on a provided passage  	Writing and Language (35 minutes 44 questions)   •	Edit and review written passages as well as graphs tables and charts   •	8 relevant ‘words in context’ vocabulary words	English (45 minutes 75 questions)  •	Edit and review passages identifying punctuation, grammar and usage, sentence structure 	No Science Section	Science (35 minutes 40 questions)  •	Data representation and research summaries •	 Interpretation of data graphs & charts 	Optional Essay (50 minutes) •	Review passage provided and write a constructive and persuasive analysis	Optional Writing Test (40 minutes) •	Review passage provided and evaluate and analyse given perspective  •	State and develop your own perspective 	Optional- Subject tests- 20 tests offered over five academic disciplines. Most candidates will pick two tests	 Testing format (not including optional writing)	Multiple Choice	Multiple Choice Testing time	3 hours + 50 minutes essay (optional) 	2 hours 55 minutes + 40 minute essay (optional) Score range	Composite 400 – 1600 two sections Math and Evidence based reading and writing (Essay reported in 3 dimensions, each 2-8) 	Composite 1 – 36 (writing domain scores: 2-12) Study resources   Testing registration  Cost with essay/without	US$110 / 98	US$109.50 / 93.50

As per the time allotments for both tests, the SAT provides more time per question which may be beneficial to some students. To determine which test a student is better suited, we encourage sitting and self scoring a trial test which is available at the respective study resource websites listed above. Internationally Educated encourages students to sit their identified test at least two times, ideally in year 11 so as not to coincide with year 12 academic demands. Regardless of the academic strength of a candidate, in order to demonstrate the best performance, students are encourage to familiarise themselves with the testing format and dedicate substantial time to studying.

US Colleges and Universities will not have a preference as to if a student sit one test over the other, however if a student is applying for a STEM degree they may wish to demonstrate fluency in this subject area.

Both the SAT and the ACT have undergone significant redesigns of their tests in the last 3 years, bringing them more aligned. The College Board’s recent decision to enhance security of its SAT test in part by reducing international testing dates may detour students based on testing opportunities. That said, the ACT is the preferred standardised test by students in the US and the SAT is the preferred standarised test by students outside of the US. As the two tests measure much of the same content the decision on which test to sit may be a result of personal preference combined with test date convenience.

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