SAT vs ACT

The SAT and the ACT are a mystery to many British parents as there is no equivalent in the UK educational system. Read all about the exams here, and decide which is best for you.

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SAT vs ACT FAQs

The SAT and the ACT are a mystery to many British parents as there is no equivalent in the UK educational system.* We often get asked to clarify what these exams are and how they work. There is a rather extensive mythology surrounding the SAT and ACT as well as which exam to take and when. I hope that this page will clarify some of the questions that parents have surrounding the exams.

What are the SAT and ACT Exams?

The SAT and ACT are exams required by US universities. Students have a choice between the two exams. Their purpose is to distinguish between high school students on an even playing field by testing a student’s aptitude for learning rather than relying on subjects taught in school. If you would like to learn more about each exam in detail, you can read more about tutoring for the SAT and ACT.

When do I take the SAT or ACT?

Most students will have their first attempt at the SAT I or ACT in the autumn of their Junior year (AS year) with their final attempt in autumn of Senior year (A level year). There is no penalty for taking the exams as many times as you like. Only the best score is sent. Therefore, there is no advantage in demonstrating that you can score very highly on the first try - but doing so is advantageous for your quality of life during the final two years of school! There are various test dates throughout the year, but it is worth noting that there are fewer in the UK and the book up quickly.

I have heard that the SAT has something called “superscoring” - what is it and how does it affect me?

Superscoring refers to the fact that, for the SAT I, the best result in each individual section is considered. Let’s say you took the exam twice. On one day, you scored an 800 in Math but only a 650 in Writing and Reading but the next time you sat it you scored an 800 in Writing but only a 650 in Math. Your total score would be 800 Math 800 Writing 650 Reading for a total of 2250. Students often put a lot of emphasis on the ability to “superscore” with the SAT. In our experience, students rarely manage to significantly alter their score as a result of this phenomenon. Therefore, having one good day is always preferable to several mediocre test days.

Do universities prefer one exam to the other?

The short answer: no. The SAT and ACT are, in true American style, competitors. The SAT used to be more popular, but, in the past twenty years, the ACT has gained considerably more traction. The SAT is even undergoing major revision as these two exams compete for the attention of students. The way the score reports for these exams are read differs slightly. For example, in the SAT, individual subscores carry more weight. This is in part due to the ability to superscore section results and in part due to the nature of the score being out of 2400. By contrast, the ACT average score is perhaps more important than any individual subscore. Thus, if a student is particularly weak in one section, the ACT may be a better option.

I have heard that The ACT is “harder” - is this true?

The short answer: No. The exams are suited to different students. The ACT has a science section and a more difficult mathematics section. For a British student who has not continued with maths or sciences after GCSEs, the ACT is a much more difficult exam to tackle. Although the level of mathematics is probably only a term above what would be expected at GCSE, keeping maths skills fresh when they are not being reinforced in school is in itself a challenge. For reference, American students do not stop taking maths in school at 16 regardless of their subject choices at university.

How do I choose which exam to take?

Exam choice depends on the student. The questioning on the ACT is often considered more straightforward by students. Students often prefer the ACT initially as an exam due to its familiar style. Many students start out disliking the SAT but find that, over time, they improve more with it than they expected. We recommend that you take a practice test in both exams if you have the time to make a decision. Realistically, however, your circumstances as a student will often dictate which exam is best for you.

English is not my first language, and the SAT vocabulary is hard. Does that affect which exam I should take?

The short answer is, again, no. Our international students often find the SAT I vocabulary very difficult. It is explicitly tested unlike with the ACT. The vocabulary is a small portion of the exam, and therefore should not be the sole decision-making tool. We have tutors who are very adept at helping students to tackle SAT vocabulary. The very good news here is that the SAT is changing, and the vocabulary will no longer be a part of the exam.

I have heard that the SAT is changing! What do I do?

You’re absolutely right. The SAT I is fundamentally changing. The last test date for the old SAT I is January 2016. Please see our dedicated page on the SAT I and what changes in the SAT I might mean for you.

* This is not strictly true. The medical school admissions test, the UKCAT, is actually very similar albeit much shorter.

Selected SAT & ACT Testimonials

Please see below some example SAT & ACT Testimonials that we have received. If you would like to hear more, you may be interested to read about our tutor guarantee or to read about Wentworth Tutors' philosophy and approach in a letter to parents from Dr Katherine Wiles, our Founder. Alternatively, some more SAT & ACT Testimonials can be found on our dedicated testimonials page, where you can filter by subject.

SAT II [Chemistry] | Dr Katherine Wiles

"Everything is going well. Katherine is prompt and well prepared, and my daughter is now very motivated to study." ... See Dr Katherine Wiles's tutoring profile.

SAT/ACT | Sophia Ohler

"We're very impressed with Sophia, she's lovely and [my daughter] gets on with her very well. Sophia is very inspiring and a good role model for [her]." ... See Sophia Ohler's tutoring profile.

SAT | Wentworth Tutors Private Tutoring

"[The tutor] was fantastic at knowing what parts of the Chemistry syllabus I hadn’t covered. My score improved from a 650 to a 790!"

Selected Profiles of our SAT & ACT Tutors

Please see below some example profiles of the SAT & ACT Tutors that we represent. If you would like to hear more, you may be interested to read about our tutor selection criteria or to read about Wentworth Tutors' philosophy and approach in a letter to parents from Dr Katherine Wiles, our Founder. Alternatively, some more SAT & ACT Tutor profiles can be found on our dedicated tutors page, where you can filter by subject.

I have always been dedicated to success. In 2015, I graduated from the University of Cambridge with first-class honours in Natural Sciences, and was awarded a number of prestigious prizes for my performance. I then went on to study Neuroscience at the University of Oxford, and was awarded a Distinction for my MSc. More recently, I have moved to London to study law, and will begin my training to be a solicitor in 2018.

During my law studies, I am hoping to fill my free time with tutoring, a pursuit that I really enjoy. Over the past few years I have spent hundreds of hours tutoring, and have loved seeing my pupils become more confident and learn to enjoy their studies. I have also taken part in pro bono tutoring, helping to give less privileged students the same opportunities as those who are more fortunate, and acting as a mentor through their school careers. ...
I have experience teaching a range of ages, both privately part-time and in full time employment as a teacher at Hurstpierpoint College, where I worked for a year before starting my degree at Oxford University. I have a particular interest in entrance into the UK's top schools and Universities, teaching 11 plus, Common Entrance, and preparing students for Oxbridge. I am aided by a detailed understanding of UK independent schools as well as experience preparing for the American education system at ISEE and SSAT level in particular. I have delivered private tuition to children between 5 and 20 years. I find tutoring immensely rewarding and particularly enjoy the focused nature of assisting an individual with their academic goals. ...
I graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge in 2012 with a 1st class degree in Natural Sciences and the Cambridge University Physiology Prize for excellence in my written dissertation. Raised in both Princeton, New Jersey and Cambridge, England, I am an expert in the differences between the American and English educational systems as I was accepted as an undergraduate to Harvard, Princeton, MIT, CalTech, and Cambridge. I have been tutoring since 2005 as both a private tutor and in the non-profit sector. ...
My approach as a tutor is deeply informed by my commitments to writing and the visual arts. With each student, I emphasise close reading, looking, and sustained attention as key tools for critical thought. Having graduated from an American liberal arts college, my teaching expertise spans all humanities subjects and I am an expert in US College applications. ...
My passion for tutoring stems from my own personal experience with understanding the impact that excellent teachers can have on our lives. At Winchester College, the leadership and inspiration of my teachers motivated me to succeed, and is reflected in my consistently strong academic record. Having now graduated with a First Class BA in Natural Sciences from Cambridge and successfully completed an MSc in Environmental Technology from Imperial College London, I am keen to share my understanding and passion of the sciences and mathematics with new students. ...