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ACT or SAT: What do I need to know?

What is the difference between ACT and SAT?

Zoomed in shot of a student holding a pen and writing in her notebook

The differences between the SAT and ACT boil down to structure, question types and scoring methods. While the SAT has three main sections, the ACT consists of four. The SAT questions require critical thinking and problem-solving skills, while the ACT tends to use more straightforward questions that test how you apply your knowledge. You will also notice that the scoring scale is different between these two tests.


What is the ACT?

The ACT is a standardized test widely used for college admissions in the United States. For students eyeing higher education, the ACT serves as a common benchmark. This test serves to examine college readiness across various subjects.

Characteristics of the ACT

  • Sections: The ACT consists of four sections - English, Math, Reading and Science, with an option Writing (Essay) section.
  • Scoring: The ACT scoring system scores each section on a scale of 1 to 36, and calculates the overall score by averaging these section scores.
  • Content: The ACT keeps it real with straightforward questions, testing students' understanding and application of knowledge.


What is the SAT?

The SAT is another widely used standardized test for college admissions in the United States. Like the ACT, it is used to assess a student's readiness for college and is also widely accepted by colleges and universities. The SAT is like your trusty sidekick, helping you show colleges what you're made of academically.

Characteristics of the SAT

  • Sections: The SAT consists of three main sections - Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW), Math and an optional Essay.
  • Scoring: The SAT scoring ranges from 400 to 1600, combining scores from EBRW and Math. The optional Essay is scored separately.
  • Content: The SAT focuses on critical thinking, problem-solving and analysis skills, often requiring students to interpret and analyze information. Unlike some other tests, the SAT likes to keep you on your toes with questions that make you think critically.

Do colleges prefer ACT or SAT

When it comes to whether colleges prefer the ACT or SAT, the answer isn't always straightforward. While some schools don't have a preference and accept both equally, others may lean towards one test over the other based on historical data or preference. Again, it is essential to research the specific requirements and preferences of the colleges you're interested in applying to. In general, however, most colleges accept both tests equally, so the choice between the two test can boil down to your personal preference.

Should I take the ACT or SAT?

When deciding whether to take the SAT or ACT, it is important to consider your individual strengths and the preference of the colleges you are applying to. If you do well with critical thinking and analysis, the SAT may be the best option for you. If you prefer more direct, knowledge-based questions, the ACT might better align with your strengths as a student. Don’t forget, you can also plan on taking both tests!

Ultimately, choosing between the two tests depends on factors such as your academic strengths, test-taking strategies and the requirement of the colleges or universities you plan to apply to. Taking the time to dig into and grasp the format and content of both exams can help you figure out which one suits you best and will let you show off your skills to the colleges you’re eyeing!

Preparation to take the ACT or SAT

A female student sits at her desk looking down at her notebook with a pencil in her hand taking notes

ACT and SAT test dates

Both the ACT and SAT offer multiple test dates throughout the year, giving you flexibility to choose a date that works best with your schedule and allows lots of study time. Be sure to check the official websites for the ACT upcoming test date schedule and the SAT upcoming test date schedule along with the registration deadlines.

It is encouraged to register for your chosen test well in advance to secure your spot and avoid any last-minute stress. Remember to also consider any additional time you may need due to application deadlines at your preferred college and score reporting.

When test day arrives, be sure to put the correct SAT school codes and ACT school codes on your test form. Using these school codes ensures that your scores are sent directly to your schools of choice!

Practice tests

Practice tests are awesome tools for helping you prepare to take the ACT and SAT. Here is why you should work to incorporate them into your study routine:

  • Practice tests familiarize you with the format, structure and pacing of the actual exam.
  • Taking practice tests helps pinpoint areas where you can improve.
  • Regular practice builds confidence and reduces test anxiety, which helps you perform even better on test day!
  • Practice tests teach you to manage your time efficiently, ensuring you can complete all the test sections within the allowed time.

Using practice tests is a smart strategy to enhance your performance and help you get an impressive score on test day!

ACT practice tests

For ACT practice tests, you can access a variety of resources online. Websites like offer official practice tests, study guides and other helpful materials. By taking advantage of these free online resources, you will walk in on test day with confidence!

SAT practice tests

While preparing for the SAT you can use platforms like Khan Academy which provides free SAT practice tests, study plans and interactive lessons. Along with Khan Academy, College Board offers full-length SAT practice tests. These two resources are a great place to start when preparing for the SAT!

Admission criteria for Central Michigan University

A group of Central Michigan University students huddle together and have their arms up in celebration posing for the photoCentral Michigan University accepts both SAT and ACT test scores. By submitting your test scores your merit award scholarship amount could be raised!

No ACT or SAT score? No problem. We’re test optional, which means students can still earn admission and a Maroon and Gold Merit Recognition Scholarship based on GPA alone. Students always receive the highest possible award, and scores will only increase a student’s award, never lower it. So, if you have taken or re-taken the SAT or ACT, we recommend sending them. You might just be able to earn a higher scholarship!

Central Michigan University's test codes:

  • SAT code: 1106
  • ACT code: 1972


Ultimately, the decision between taking the ACT or SAT depends on your individual strengths, preferences and the requirements of the colleges or universities you plan to apply to. Both tests serve as ways to measure your college readiness and are widely accepted by institutions across the United States. Remember to research the format, content and scoring methods of each test to determine which aligns best with your skills and abilities.

Incorporating practice tests in your study routine is essential for familiarizing yourself with the exam and building your confidence. Whether you choose the ACT or SAT, preparation and dedication will position you for success on test day and beyond, paving the way for your exciting academic journey!

Blog: All Things Higher Ed posted | Last Modified: | Author: by University Communications | Categories: University Communications
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