Published Tuesday, September 3, 2013 by Nicolette

Last week, we did our Perfect Score interview for Ramola Bavisker, who scored a perfect 36 on the ACT  on top of her already perfect SAT score (earning her second $1000 scholarship from us, to boot!). Having taken and beaten both exams, Ramola was in a unique position to give advice on both exams. We asked her one of the frequent questions we get from students:

Which exam should I take?

You would be right to make a thoughtful and careful decision. The two exams have a lot of important differences to note. One of the biggest is that the SAT has a -1/4 point penalty for wrong answers, whereas the ACT has no penalty at all.  There are also smaller differences that influence personal preference. Ramola found the SAT Critical Reading to be most difficult, but breezed through the Critical Reading ACT.

However, as you weigh your options, it’s important to understand that all colleges give the SAT and the ACT equal weight. Some colleges may see one or more of the other, but that is solely the result of what students choose to submit. When choosing which test to take, choose the one you are most comfortable taking!

Ramola gave very sound advice: “Take [both] exams first, ’cause a lot of people think one exam is easier than the other. “ Excel Test offers free diagnostic exams for both SAT and ACT, so give us a call if you want to try your luck on either test.

In the end, it doesn’t matter which one you choose.  What matters is that you are comfortable and ready to work hard and practice. Practice, practice, practice!




3 hours, 25 minutes (including the 30-minute optional Writing Test)

3 hours, 45 minutes


4 test sections (5 with the optional Essay, known as the Writing Test)

10 Sections

Areas Tested

English, Math, Reading, Science, Writing (optional)

Critical Reading, Math, Writing (includes the Essay), Experimental (unscored)

 Reading (ACT) / Critical Reading (SAT)

Reading comprehension passages (vocabulary not tested)

Reading Comprehension and Sentence Completion questions (vocabulary tested)


Science Reasoning (analysis, interpretation, evaluation, problem solving)

Science not included


Math accounts for 1/4 of overall score
Topics Covered: Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry

Math accounts for 1/3 of overall score
Topics Covered: Basic Geometry and Algebra II


Last section (optional);
30 minutes
Not included in composite score

First section; 25 minutes
Included into overall score (1/3)


Total composite score of 1-36 (based on average of 4 tests)
4 scores of 1-36 for each test
Additional score of 0-12 for the optional Essay

Total score out of 2400
3 scores of 200-800 for each section
Essay (0-12) included in the Writing section score (200-800)

Wrong Answer Penalty

No penalty

Yes, 1/4 point per wrong answer (except for Math Grid-in questions)

Sending Scores

You decide which score to send

Your entire score history will be sent automatically


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