Many students and parents begin the college prep process by comparing the ACT and SAT tests. Both ACT and SAT scores are used for college admissions decisions and awarding merit-based scholarships.
Most colleges do not prefer one test over the other.
The SAT has four sections: Reading, Writing and Language, Math (no calculator), and Math (calculator allowed).
The test taker may optionally write an essay which, in that case, is the fifth test section.
The College Board also states that use of the SAT in combination with high school grade point average (GPA) provides a better indicator of success in college than high school grades alone, as measured by college freshman GPA.
Various studies conducted over the lifetime of the SAT show a statistically significant increase in correlation of high school grades and college freshman grades when the SAT is factored in.
It found that independently high school GPA could explain 15.4% of the variance in college freshman GPA, SAT I (the SAT Math and Verbal sections) could explain 13.3% of the variance in college freshman GPA, and SAT II (also known as the SAT subject tests—in the UC's case specifically Writing, Mathematics IC or IIC, plus a third subject test of the student's choice) could explain 16% of the variance in college freshman GPA.
When high school GPA and the SAT I were combined, they explained 20.8% of the variance in college freshman GPA.
Historically, the SAT was more widely used by students living in coastal states and the ACT was more widely used by students in the Midwest and South; in recent years, however, an increasing number of students on the East and West coasts have been taking the ACT.
Since 2007, all four-year colleges and universities in the United States that require a test as part of an application for admission will accept either the SAT or ACT, and over 950 four-year colleges and universities do not require any standardized test scores at all for admission.