What is SAT, ACT and AP?


High school students require SAT, ACT or AP test scores for college admissions and more. Understanding key details about these tests will allow students to focus their efforts on meeting these college goals.

SAT and ACT promote college admissions whereas AP enables students to skip introductory college courses. Both AP and SAT Subject tests indicate proficiency in specific subject areas. When a student scores well in these tests, it indicates to colleges that the student has the capability to be successful in college.

Also, an in-depth understanding of these tests and their differences will make it easier for students to do well in these tests.

What is SAT ACT and AP?

SAT stands for Scholastic Assessment Test, ACT stands for American College Testing, and AP stands for Advanced Placement.

SAT and ACT tests are easier and less complex than the AP tests. This is one reason why AP tests can also be used to earn college credits or to skip introductory courses in those subjects at many leading US colleges.

The General SAT tests and ACT test scores indicate the level of college readiness in reading, writing, basic math and logical reasoning.

Colleges do not offer any college credits for students completing the SAT or ACT tests. But these tests are very helpful for gaining college admissions at many colleges in North America.

The SAT General test and subject tests are popular both in the US and internationally, whereas the ACT tests are popular within the US.

AP or Advanced Placement tests are taken by many students in the US and has recently grown in popularity worldwide.

Good AP scores are often used to gain admission into top US colleges and for starting advanced courses in college much sooner by skipping the introductory courses.

Though the SAT, ACT and SAT subject tests are much easier than the AP tests, AP scores can also earn you college credits at these colleges and many more.

Which test is better SAT or ACT?

Though both SAT and ACT tests are suitable for college admissions, SAT are more popular worldwide. There are also more readily available study materials for the SAT.

An advantage of ACT is that students can improve scores by re-taking just the individual sections of ACT such as only the Math portion, Reading, Writing or Science.

As for SAT, re-testing will require students to re-write the entire test and not just individual sections.

How can students prepare for the SAT and ACT early on?

PSAT tests are typically taken by 10th and 11th graders as preparation for the SAT. For ACT preparation, the preACT can be taken by 10th graders and ASPIRE tests are suitable for 3rd to 10th graders.

Practice tests for the PSAT can be found here in College Board. There are also Princeton Review and other PSAT practice guides available on Amazon.

For the ACT Aspire, these are administered by select schools and test centers and you can contact your school directly about this. Practice guides for ACT Aspire are available from Lumos learning and more free practice tests can be found on the Lumos learning website.

Is the ACT or SAT more difficult?

It is likely that some students will prefer the ACT and others will prefer the SAT. Still others may be ok with both the ACT and the SAT.

For the English, SAT focuses more on writing style and vocabulary, whereas ACT focuses on grammar and punctuation.

If you’re ok with doing some numeric calculations by hand and are comfortable with algebra, SAT will be a good fit for you.

But if you always prefer having a calculator for all tests but are comfortable with geometry and trigonometry questions, ACT will be a better fit for you.

More on the ACT-SAT comparison can be found here on ACT.org.

Do you need both ACT and SAT?

Most colleges will require either your SAT scores, or ACT scores, but not both.

So if you prefer one test over the other, it’s alright to take just one of these tests.

But if you feel you’re equally comfortable with both the tests, it is advantageous to take both the tests for the following reasons:

1) Preparing for both tests will help you double up on your test preparation, especially since both tests will cover many similar topics.

2) In case you score better in one of the tests, taking both tests will allow you to present the one with your best test scores.

What is the difference between AP and SAT?

AP consists of individual subject tests whereas the General SAT test covers Math, Reading and Writing all in one single test.

The AP Subject exams test a student’s college-level understanding of a specific subject whereas, SAT Subject exams test the same subject matter at a high school level of understanding.

Which is harder SAT Subject Test or AP?

For high school graduates, since AP tests college-level material and SAT tests high school material, the AP tests are generally harder and require more intense preparation than the SAT Subject tests.

Preparing for AP tests will require students to take special AP classes while in high school. The AP classes are generally facilitated by the students’ high school but are much more complex than high school courses.

As for the SAT, brushing up on the high school curriculum and taking many SAT practice tests will allow students to score well.

Do colleges prefer ACT or SAT?

Colleges accept any one of these tests, namely ACT or SAT for student admissions. Colleges do not have any preference for one of these tests over the other, and all is good as long as the student has a good score on either one of these tests.

As of 2020-21, are colleges requiring SAT or ACT for admissions?

The University of California has done away with the requirement for SAT or ACT test scores for 2021, 2022 and 2023. Many others have discontinued this requirement for 2021 due to test closures as a result of the pandemic.

The list of colleges that do not require SAT or ACT for 2021 admissions include Boston University, University of Washington, Northeastern University among a total of about 51 or more universities.

Before taking any college prep tests and before applying to colleges, be sure to check with them directly on whether they are waiving the testing requirements for 2021 and beyond.

How Do Students Prepare for SAT and ACT and AP?

ACT & SAT Practice and Preparation

  • For free test preparation for the SAT and additional ACT information, Khan Academy is a great first step. Khan Academy will help you build the foundational knowhow for performing well in the SAT.

  • Khan Academy also provides personalized SAT practice tests in collaboration with the College Board.

  • Princeton Review has a self-paced course for SAT and ACT prep for a low cost of $299. This provides 280+ lessons, 10 hours of on-demand tutoring and 3200+ practice test questions.

AP Classes and Preparation

  • The College Board hosts an AP Classroom channel on YouTube for many of the AP tests. These will provide many video lesson on AP related topics from AP tutors and professors. These video lessons and more resources are also availabe by registering on the college board site for the AP classroom.

  • edX has about 14+ free AP courses for AP exam preparation. Each course is for a fixed duration and requires between 2 to 5 hours of study per week for many months.

  • Princeton Review has a cram course for 5 common AP exams with test preparation that includes a complete test content review, complete practice tests and more.

What Are Good Scores For SAT, AP and ACT?

  • The General SAT score is in the range of 400 to 1600. 200 to 800 covers the English reading and writing, and the other 200 to 800 covers the Math portion of the test.

  • A score at or above 1200 is considered a good score for the general SAT. However, individual colleges have their own acceptable SAT scores which depends on the competitiveness of its student applicants.

  • The optional essay for the general SAT has an additional score between 2 to 8. A score at or above 5 would be considered good for the optional essay.

  • AP tests are scored on a scale of 1 to 5, whereas the AP classes are given a letter grade such as A or B and so on. College admissions staff may also review the student’s AP class grades in addition to their AP test scores.

  • A score of 4 or 5 is considered a good score for an AP subject exam.

  • SAT Subject tests have scores in the range of 200 to 800. Simply reviewing high school textbooks and writing several practice tests is adequate preparation for each of the SAT subject tests.

  • A score of 600 or above is considered good for an SAT subject exam.

  • For the ACT, each of the Math, Science, English and Reading are ven a score from 1 to 36. Then an average of all these scores is taken which again ranges from 1 to 36.

  • Any score at of above 21 is considered a good ACT score.

  • The optional writing essay score ranges from 2 to 12. A score at or above 8 is considered good for the optional essay writing.

SAT AP ACT Test Dates and Registration

  • SAT (General) test is the most popular and is generally conducted over five times a year.

  • AP Exams are conducted for a 2-week period in May/June every year.

  • Since 2020, AP tests can be taken either at a regular test location or at home (online).

  • ACT tests are conducted several times a year and students can register for their ACT here.

  • In addition to the general ACT test administration, individual school districts, states and colleges may proctor the ACT on their campus. It’s best to contact your schools directly for the additional ACT testing dates.

  • SAT Subject tests of June 2021 in the US have been cancelled.

  • International students still have the option to take the SAT subject tests on these testing dates.

AP Classroom and How It Works

AP classes are conducted by many high schools nationwide in the US and this helps students to prepare for the AP exams. The material taught in AP are at a level suitable for college courses and they are therefore eligible for earning college credits.

For students who do not have access to AP classes in high school, online AP classes are a good option. These online classes are available by registering as an AP student on the College Board.

A dedicated YouTube channel is also available for anyone interested in taking online AP classes.

Online AP classes are also hosted for free on edX which are administered by some leading US universities such as Berkeley.

SAT and ACT: An In-depth Comparison

 

Here is a description and comparison of the SAT (General test) and the ACT :

SAT

ACT

PRIMARY PURPOSE

College Admissions

College Admissions

OFFICIAL WEBSITE

SAT Official site

ACT Official site

TESTING AUTHORITY

College Board

ACT Organization

COLLEGE CREDITS

No

No

COLLEGE REQUIREMENTS

To verify college readiness with regard to English, basic Math, logical reasoning and writing skills

To verify college readiness with regard to English, basic Math, logical reasoning and writing skills

POPULARITY (2019)

2.2 million students

1.8 million students

KEY DIFFERENTIATOR

Requires numeric calculations without calculator

Requires knowledge of geometry and trignometry

CURRICULUM

Optional essay (1.4 million students)

Optional essay (788k students)

COST/ EXPENSES

Main Test: $49.50,

Optional Essay: $64.50

Main Test: $55,

Optional Essay: $70

EARLY PREPARATION

PSAT tests (for SAT prep)

N/A

TEST DURATION

1) Main Test: 3 HRS,

2) Essay: 50 mins

1) Main Test: 2 HRS 55 mins,

2) Essay: 40 mins

TEST FORMAT

154 questions

Reading – 65 mins,

Writing – 35 mins,

Math – 80 mins,

Science (all through the test)

215 questions

Reading – 35 mins,

Writing – 45 mins,

Math – 60 mins,

Science – 35 mins

TEST DATES

Test offered in the US and abroad about 7 times a year

Over 5 times a year in the US and abroad, including in June, July, September and October

TEST LOCATION/S

Test centers are available all over the US and in many cities worldwide

Many test centers all across the US, along with fewer international test centers

ADVANTAGES

SAT is more popular and there are more well-known resources for the study and practice of SAT tests

Getting a 5 (perfect score) on the ACT is certainly doable for sincere students

DISADVANTAGES

Getting a perfect score on the SAT is extremely difficult (nearly impossible)

ACT tests are not as much known internationally as the SAT

OTHER STUDY RESOURCES

Official SAT Study Guide from College Board

Official ACT Preparation Book on Amazon

FREE TRAINING

Khan Academy is a great source for free SAT online training

ACT Academy offers free online training

PRACTICE TESTS

1) College Board’s full-length SAT Practice Tests

2) Khan Academy’s Official SAT Practice

1) Study.com: Free ACT Practice Test

2) Test-Guide.com provides many free ACT Practice Tests

MAIN TEST:

SCORING & GRADES

400-1600

1-36

AVERAGE TEST SCORE

1059

20.7

OPTIONAL ESSAY SCORE

2-8 points for each of reading, writing and analysis

Final score of 2-12 by averaging four category-scores

RE-TESTING ALLOWED

Yes.

Can choose to send highest scores to colleges upon second-time test taking.

Research shows better scores on second or multiple attempts on the SAT test.

Yes.

Can re-take (in digital format) individual sections such as English, Math, Science or Reading.

Analysis of AP and SAT Subject Tests

Here is a detailed analysis and comparison of the AP and SAT Subject Tests:

AP

SAT Subject

PRIMARY PURPOSE

To skip introductory college courses (for college credits)

To indicate subject-matter expertise for college admissions in specific degree majors

OFFICIAL WEBSITE

1) Main AP CollegeBoard site

2) AP Courses: Arts, Science, Math, Social Sciences and more

1) Main College Board SAT Subject page

2) Mathematics

3) English

4) Science: Physics, Chemistry, Biology

5) Languages

6) History

TESTING AUTHORITY

College Board

College Board

COLLEGE CREDITS

Yes

No in most cases, except in some of these colleges

COLLEGE REQUIREMENTS

Typically for skipping introductory college courses, but 4+ AP scores also look good in college applications

Two or more SAT subject tests required for admission to some ivy league colleges

LIST OF SUBJECTS COVERED

38 subject tests including in Music & Arts, English, Social Sciences, Math and Computer Science, Sciences & Languages and Cultures

20 subject tests in general areas of Math, Science, History, Languages and English

POPULARITY (2019)

Popular in many US high schools and internationally with 2.8 million test takers

SAT subject tests are less popular than AP and are used mainly for selective college admissions

KEY DIFFERENTIATOR

Test is based on college level knowledge

Test is based on high school knowledge that indicates college-readiness

COST/ EXPENSES

$95 per AP subject test

$26 for 1st SAT subject test for test date, $22 each for additional tests

EARLY PREPARATION

Students typically prepare for AP tests by opting for specific AP classes in high school

Students write practice tests to figure out how to time themselves in the test

TEST DURATION

and

LOCATION

About 2- 3 hours per test

As of 2021, the AP test can be taken at school digitally or with paper-and-pencil, or from home on a computer

1 hour per SAT Subject test

The at-home testing for SAT Subject tests has been discontinued as of 2021

TEST FORMAT

1st part is multiple-choice questions with 1 answer out of 4 or 5 choices.

The 2nd part is a free choice answer, either an essay, or a solution to a problem and so on.

1 hour long tests with multiple-choice questions

Subject tests have between 50 to 90 questions per test.

Math tests have about 50 questions, whereas the US history test consists of about 90 multiple-choice questions.

TEST DATES

AP tests are conducted once a year typically in the month of May.

Different AP subject tests are conducted on separate test dates in May.

Generally, SAT & Subject tests are conducted about 6 times a year.

But as of 2021, the SAT Subject tests have been cancelled in the US.

The tests are still available several times a year internationally in 2021.

TEST LOCATION/S

AP tests are offered at many of the high schools in the US that offer AP classes.

There are also international test centers in many cities worldwide.

SAT Subject tests are conducted in many high schools and colleges in the US and in about 7000 test centers internationally.

ADVANTAGES

1) Can earn students college credits or advanced standing in college

2) A score of 4 or 5 in two or more AP tests can boost a student’s college application and many top colleges are impressed by good AP scores.

1) SAT Subject tests are much easier than AP tests since most of the test content is focused on high school level of learning.

DISADVANTAGES

1) AP tests require intense college-level study while the student is still in high school.

So it requires careful and focused preparation over a longer term.

1) SAT Subject tests are usually not required except at some of the top selective colleges.

2) Getting a perfect SAT subject score is NOT easy.

OTHER STUDY RESOURCES

ACT Official Test Guide

1) Official Sample Questions for Subject Tests

2) Study.com SAT Subject study guides

FREE TRAINING

1) Free AP Courses at EdX

2) Advanced Placement YouTube Video LecturesOf all the tests, the AP subject tests are the only ones that can directly offer college-level credits for high school students.

1) Khan Academy Video Lessons and Practice on YouTube

2) Free SAT Practice Tests from Varsity Tutors

PRACTICE TESTS

Free AP Practice Tests

Study.com SAT Subject study Guides

SUBJECT TEST:

SCORING & GRADES

1 – 5

200 – 800

1 point for each right answer, between 1/4th to 1/2 point is deducted for each wrong answer in the SAT Subject test.

PREFERRED TEST SCORE

4 or 5

700 and above

RE-TESTING ALLOWED

Yes

Only one test per year, so retesting can be undertaken after one year only.

Students can request that only the highest scores be reported to colleges

Yes

Can re-test after a month or multiple times in a year.

Choosing Between SAT, ACT and AP

For many colleges in North America, good SAT or ACT scores are extremely important for admissions. Of all the tests, the AP subject tests are the only ones that can directly offer college-level credits for high school students. SAT/ SAT Subject tests can be taken many times a year whereas AP tests are offered only once a year in the month of May.

High school students who are more comfortable with Math and Science prefer the SAT and most other students with good English writing and verbal skills prefer the ACT.

SAT is the more popular of the two and is recognized worldwide with widespread availability of many learning resources.

Since different colleges prefer one test versus the other, many students write multiple of these tests. For example, a student might write both the SAT and ACT test to meet the admission requirements at different colleges.

As such there is no restriction as to which combination of tests students choose to write. However, the student also needs to do careful planning to prepare for the exams. So for best scores, it’s worth figuring out which tests are favorable to you and then to practice and write only your preferred tests.

You can also work early-on in figuring out which colleges you are targeting so you can choose the tests that your chosen colleges require for admissions.

If you want to save time and money during college, writing the AP Subject exams can be hugely beneficial. Good AP scores can help you skip the lower-level college courses thereby saving you time and money.

However, AP exams are the toughest of these exams and will require you to gain a higher level of understanding on par with introductory college courses.

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