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/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 I | Dr Katherine Wiles

"Katherine was incredible. [My daughter's] score improved beyond even her own expectations. She ended up perfect scoring Critical Reading which was her weakest section!" ... See Dr Katherine Wiles's tutoring profile.

SAT | Wentworth Tutors Private Tutoring

"The tutor] is very focused and identifies my problems very quickly, and therefore is able to help me with exactly what I need. I have learned a lot from her despite the fact that I only had four days of tuition."

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 went to both a Grammar school and Millfield boarding school where I achieved my GCSE's and A-levels (Maths, Chemistry, Biology, Geography). In my final year at Millfield I sat the SAT and SAT II (Math & Biology) exams and went on to study Neurobiology at Harvard College. After completing my undergraduate degree, I am now studying graduate medicine at Kings College London. Before starting my second degree I went to China where I worked as a teacher and as an Education consultant. I have been working for Wentworth for over a year now, mainly focusing on the ISEE and SAT exams. ... See Caitlin Rea's tutoring profile
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. ... See Kylie Gilchrist's tutoring profile
In 2015, I graduated from Cambridge with a Double First in Natural Sciences (Biochemistry). I have been a tutor for several years and I enjoy tutoring very much. I have particular experience tutoring students for US exams, as well as for UK Maths and Science exams. ... See Harry Taylor's tutoring profile
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. ... See Dr Katherine Wiles's tutoring profile
I was brought up in Paris and moved to London to study at Imperial College, where I obtained a Bachelor’s and Master's degree in Theoretical Physics with High First Class honours. My research focussed on the way in which alternative logic systems can help us bridge the gap between quantum mechanics and relativity. I was awarded Associateship of the Royal College of Science. Although I am a science specialist, I also have a strong background in English and Verbal Reasoning. I sat the GRE in 2016 for entrance to US Grad School and got exceptionally good grades (Verbal Reasoning - 99th percentile, Analytical Writing - 93rd percentile). Since 2011, I have offered private tuition for all major examination boards as well as working for the Imperial College summer schools. ... See Nicolas Pimpare's tutoring profile