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What's the difference between the SAT and the ACT?

As your homeschooler starts preparing for graduation and college applications (big steps are coming up), you've probably come across two important tests: the ACT and the SAT. Your son will have to take one of them, or both in some cases, to show colleges that he's ready for the next academic step. In fact, universities require scores as part of the application process. So what's the difference between the SAT and the ACT and does it matter which your son takes? 

What are they?
Both the SAT and the ACT are meant to help colleges determine whether your son is ready to take on the academic rigor that comes with post-secondary education. The scores are part of a scale. To get a perfect score, your son must earn a 36 on the ACT or a 2,400 on the SAT, but achieving these is incredibly hard. Students rarely earn perfect scores.

How are they different?
The structure of these college-readiness exams is slightly different. The ACT is a content-based assessment that measures how well students have learned knowledge deemed important for college. As such, your son will answer straight-forward questions about things he should be familiar with, like solving math equations and reading passages. The test has four required sections (math, English, reading and science) and one optional section (writing).

The SAT, on the other hand, is a critical-thinking assessment. It measures how well your son can think in terms of what he's learned, like reasoning mathematically. The questions are designed to be tricky or confusing, requiring a close read - your son can't skim the questions and get all the information he needs to answer correctly. The test covers the following sections: critical thinking, math, writing and essay.

Wrong answers
The two exams are different in how they score. In the ACT, if your son guesses wrong, there's no penalty. As such, he should try to answer every question before his time is up, even if he's not sure. That way, he has a chance of getting a point.

The SAT is more rigorous. If your son answers incorrectly, he loses 1/4 of a point. For this reason, your son should only answer if he's totally sure he's correct.

Which to take
The schools your son is interested in attending will say which scores they require on their website. Have your son follow that as a guide.

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