It’s going to be a year of change in standardized testing. With the new SAT coming out March 2016 and so much still unknown about how colleges, students, and test prep will respond, increasing numbers of students are turning to the ACT as a safer option. Even though the ACT has been around since 1959, international students still aren’t very familiar with the exam and how it can help their college admissions plan.
Below are a few points that may help you decide if switching to the ACT is a good choice for you.
The ACT may be safer than the SAT.
For the first year of the redesigned SAT (March 2016–January 2017) a lot of the SAT will be in flux. The ACT has decided to make only a small change to its essay, but 99% of the exam still remains the same. As such, the ACT will probably be less risky during this period. We all certainly know much more about it than the redesigned SAT.
More American students take the ACT.
The ACT has become the test of choice for American students who prefer its format, content, and pace. As of 2012, more students took the ACT than the SAT.
American universities see the ACT as equally valid.
A rumor persists among international students that American colleges see the SAT as “harder” or “more valid” than the ACT. So, the reasoning goes, take the SAT to show you are a serious student. This is completely wrong. All US colleges accept the ACT and see it as equally valid as the SAT. In fact, the ACT is so valid that the redesigned SAT is moving closely in line with the ACT. Imitation is the greatest form of flattery!
Fewer colleges Super Score the ACT.
Although American universities see the SAT and ACT as equally valid, there is one difference between how universities treat the scores: Super Scoring. Many universities will add your top section scores on the SAT regardless of the test date to create a Super Score. Though some colleges will also do this for the ACT, fewer of them do. Check with the colleges you plan to apply to in order to find out their individual policies.
The ACT is given on different days than the SAT.
The ACT is given on Saturday mornings, like the SAT, but it’s usually given at the end of the month. For a look at the dates, see ACT International Dates. One clear advantage is that the ACT is given on days different from the SAT Subject Tests. Thus students never have to worry about deciding whether they should use their SAT test date for the regular SAT or the SAT Subject Tests. There’s never a conflict between the ACT and Subject Tests.
The ACT does not test “SAT Vocabulary.”
The ACT does not contain sentence completions, the traditional way the SAT tests high-level vocabulary. For international students who speak English as a second language, this difference can make the ACT a better fit. However, note that the pace of the verbal sections of the ACT is very fast, and students need to be quick readers on the ACT.
There’s no guessing penalty on the ACT.
The SAT deducts ¼ of a point for each wrong answer. As such, there’s always an added “game” to the test: deciding if you are confident enough about an answer to choose it or whether you should leave it blank. The ACT never penalizes a wrong guess. So students should never leave a blank or worry about answering a question. Even if you don’t have time to get to the question, just guess!
For students with a testing accommodation, extra time on the ACT can make it a better choice than the SAT.
When students receive extra time on the SAT for a learning difference, they must follow a strict schedule on the test, stopping and starting each section based on the accommodation. For example, if a student has double time on the exam, she has exactly 50 minutes for section 1 (compared to the traditional 25 minutes), exactly 50 minutes for section 2, and so on. On the ACT, however, extra time is awarded as one chunk that can be apportioned however the student chooses. For example, the student with double time is awarded 120 minutes for Math (compared to the traditional 60 minutes). The student can use all of that extra 60 minutes on Math, or if she finished early and knows her weakest section is Reading, she can save her any leftover time and apply it to Reading instead. It’s up to the student. This flexibility is fantastic for students with testing accommodations and allows them to adjust to their strengths and weaknesses.
There are fewer ACT test centers and seats available.
Because the SAT has usually been more popular internationally than the ACT, the ACT offers the exam in fewer places and often has fewer seats available at each administration. For a complete list of test centers abroad and the ACT dates they offer, see ACT International Test Centers. This difference means it’s a great idea to plan ahead and register early for the ACT.
The ACT contains a Science Section.
The ACT covers the same math, writing, grammar, and reading content as the SAT, but one big difference is science. The ACT contains an entire section devoted to science, which does not appear on the SAT. For students who like science, this new section makes the ACT a great fit. But don’t worry too much if you don’t remember much from biology or chemistry! The ACT’s Science section is primarily a test of whether or not you can read charts and graphs. It contains very few questions on actual scientific knowledge.
For more on the differences between the redesigned SAT and ACT, check out and download our comparative guide.