There are two major college entrance examinations administered in the United States today: the SAT and the ACT. Standardized tests like the SAT and ACT are designed to allow college admissions officers to judge all students by a common measurement. Scores on these tests can compensate for differences in high school curriculum, grade inflation, and quality of teaching. In addition, they serve as a reliable predictor of how you will perform academically in your freshman year of college.

SNAPSHOT: SAT
The SAT is the most widely taken college entrance examination. It is designed to test your skill level in math, vocabulary, and reading comprehension. The SAT has 3 components: Critical Reasoning, Mathematics, and a required Writing Test.

The SAT is scored on scale of 200-800 for both the math and verbal sections. The College Board sets the average for all test takers at 500 for each. A perfect score on the SAT is 1600. However, in recent years, fewer than 20 percent of all test takers achieve a math score of 600 or better. Fewer than 10 percent score higher than 600 on the verbal section.

SNAPSHOT: ACT
The American College Testing Assessment (ACT) is designed to test your skill levels in English, math, reading, and science reasoning. On the test, you will have 2 hours and 55 minutes to complete a variety of multiple choice questions divided into four sections—one for each tested subject area. The English, reading, and science sections each include several reading passages with anywhere from 5 to 15 questions per passage. The math section includes 60 questions—each with 5 possible answer choices.

You will actually receive 12 separate scores on the ACT: 1 composite, 4 subject scores, and 7 subscores. However the composite—or scaled—score is the most important. It ranges from 1-36. Nearly half of all test takers fall in the 17-23 range.

SAT vs ACT
Until recently, the ACT was required by colleges in the Midwest, while the SAT was the test of choice for schools in the Northeast and on both coasts. Now, however, most schools accept both. This increased acceptance of both exams gives students a strategic advantage. The ACT is a content-based test, whereas the SAT tests critical thinking and problem solving skills. Depending on your particular strengths and weaknesses, you may perform significantly better on one test than the other. Regardless, you should check with each of your target schools before taking either exam.