Decide on a Test to Take

Interns in class The ACT and SAT are different types of tests. The SAT test is made up of sections that test your critical reading, mathematics and writing skills. The ACT tests a wider variety of skills including science, reasoning, reading, English mathematics and writing. Because the tests are different, some students perform better on one than the other. A lot of students take both tests and determine which they felt they preferred.

The SAT writing section is not optional; it's part of the test. NMU doesn't use that score in the admissions and scholarship process but looks at the score you receive out of 1600 (the total for the other two sections). On the ACT, the writing section is totally optional. Some colleges require a writing score and some don't.  Others "recommend" you take the writing test, but don't use the results in the admissions process. At NMU we don't require you to submit that score and we don't use it in the admissions or scholarship decisions.  However, writing is important -- and keeping your options open is important. So we think that it's a good idea for students to take the writing section at least once.

A few other differences to note between the tests: the SAT is scored in three sections with a possible score of 800 in each section to make a possible 2400 total. The highest ACT score is 36. The SAT penalizes a student 1/3 of a point for every incorrect answer given. So, there are advantages to leaving questions blank if you are completely unsure of the answer. However, on the ACT, where you are not penalized for incorrect answers, it is advisable to answer every question even if you need to guess. You should plan to receive your scores within four to eight weeks of your test date. Although Northern Michigan University accepts either score, most students choose to submit an ACT score as opposed to an SAT score.

SAT and ACT At A Glance




When is it administered?  Seven times per year Six times per year
What is the test structure?

Reading: 1, 65 minute section; Math- 1, 25 minutes section & 1, 55 minutes section; Writing and Language: 1, 35 min section. Optional essay.

Four sections: English: 1, 45-min section; math: 1 60-min section; Reading: 1, 35-min section; Science: 1, 35 min section. Optional essay.
What is the test content? Math: up to 9th grade basic geometry and Algebra II. Science: none.
Reading: sentence completions, short and long critical reading passages, reading comprehension.
Writing: an essay, and questions testing grammar, usage, and word choice.
Math: up to trigonometry. Science: charts, experiments. Reading: four passages, one each of Prose Fiction, Social Science, Humanities, and Natural Science.
English: stresses grammar.
Is there a penalty for wrong answers? No No
How is the test scored? 200-800 per section, added together for a combined score. A 2400 is the highest possible combined score. 1-36 for each subject, averaged for a composite score. A 36 is the highest possible composite score.
Are all scores sent to schools? Yes. If a student requests a score report be sent to specific colleges, the report will include the scores the student received on every SAT taken. No. There is a "Score Choice" option. Students can choose which schools will receive their scores AND which scores the schools will see.
Are there other uses for the exams? Scholarship purposes. Scholarship purposes. Certain statewide testing programs.
Best time to register? At least six weeks before the test date At least four weeks before the test date
Need more information? Educational Testing Service (ETS)
The College Board
ACT, Inc.:

(from the Princeton Review)