There are two entrance exams that university-bound students may choose from. On the east and west coast, the SAT is the exam that most students choose to take, whereas in the Midwest and South, the ACT is more common. The ACT is administered by ACT, Inc. and tests students in five different areas: Math (60 minutes), English (45 minutes), Science (35 minutes), Reading (35 minutes), and Writing (30 minutes). The first four sections receive an integer score between 1 and 36 and a composite score is calculated by finding the average of these four sections. The Writing section is an optional section that UC system also requires and consists of an essay that is scored between 1 and 12. The average national scores for each required subject test in 2008 were: English – 20.6, Math-21.0, Reading – 21.4, and Science – 20.8.  (click for updated data)


Registering for the Exam


To take the exam, students should register online for a testing date and location. Generally, the deadline to register is five weeks before the administration date. Between a five weeks and there weeks before the exam, students can still register but must pay a late registration fee of $19.00. However, testing locations do become full, so students should register early, well before the deadline so that they can find a center near their home. The ACT is administered six times during the school year, September, October, December, February, April, and June. Usually students test in the end of 11th grade and/or the beginning of the 12th grade. Testing locations usually include local schools or colleges and all tests are administered on Saturday morning. If a student cannot test on Saturdays for religious reasons, there are makeup tests on Sundays. The registration fee without the Writing test is $30.00 and with Writing is $44.50.


Taking the Exam


Each of the subjects of the exam make up only one section of the exam so every exam has four to six sections depending on whether the student is taking the optional Writing section and whether there is an experimental section (that is not scored). IN the English section, there are 75 questions on grammar and mechanics of the English, while in the Reading section, reading comprehension is tested with 40 questions. In the Mathematics section, there are 60 questions that cover algebra, coordinate geometry, geometry and basic trigonometry. The science section covers problem solving, interpretation and analysis in science and consists of 40 questions. Finally, the optional writing section consists of one essay prompt.


Should I take the ACT or the SAT?


Generally, schools have no preference on which exam a student takes and submits to them. Thus, each student should choose based on which test he or she feels that he or she will perform better on.


Unlike the SAT, the ACT is not designed to measure a student’s analytical and problem solving aptitude. Instead, it is designed to measure a student’s knowledge of five different subjects: Math, English, Science, Reading, and Writing (this section is optional) but required by many schools, for example, the UC system schools). Due to the fact that the tests are designed to test the student in different ways, oftentimes students who are not satisfied with their score on the SAT can take the ACT and do substantially better, and vice versa. In addition, there is no guessing penalty on the ACT, as there is on the SAT. Also, it is slightly shorter and because the time is divided into 4-6 chunks not 10, like the SAT, students have more control over their time allotment, but also more time to possibly fall behind. Ultimately, some students show a great preference between the tests, but some do not. Your student should try practice exam in both to see which he or she is more comfortable with and suited for.


Preparing for the ACT


Even though the ACT is not popular as the SAT in California, there are still many resources for students who would like to prepare for the ACT. Most book stores have a variety of ACT preparation books that have practice tests and instructive material to help students learn what they should know for the test.




In 2007, there were about 1,200,000 students who took the ACT and 177 received perfect scores. Out of those, 61,830 students in California alone took the ACT. For more information about the ACT please refer directly to their website www.


The SAT is more widely accepted than the ACT, so much so that almost all universities will accept the SAT. If a student tested well on the SAT, then they do not need to consider taking the ACT. However, if the student decides to take the ACT in replacement of SAT, they must get a score of at least 30 to have a possibility of being considered by the UC system. This is because the ACT is focused directly on what is being taught in the high school curriculum.


The SAT is separated into 1/3 reading, 1/3 writing, 1/3 math. For this reason, many students reinforce their math and English skills for the examination. After taking the SAT test, some will want to take the AT after the SAT, especially students who have recently immigrated, since they’ve already prepared in the areas tested by the ACT. Many students will take both the SAT and the ACT, and choose the better score to apply or college.


Although it is harder to prepare for the SAT reasoning test, the preparation, including reading comprehension, writing and a review of math, will pay off in the future. Furthermore, the SAT subject test is more flexible because it allows students to choose from among five main categories for the test. If there has been sufficient planning and preparation, participation in these two tests puts students one step closer to the school of their dreams.