ACT Frequently Asked Questions

Your ACT Questions Answered

I’ve heard that colleges prefer the SAT to the ACT. Is that true?

No. Any U.S. college or university that requires standardized test scores accepts both the SAT and ACT and gives absolutely no preference to either test. That said, colleges will sometimes have slightly different requirements for SAT Subject Tests, depending on whether you are submitting SAT or ACT scores. It’s always worth checking with the individual schools your child is considering.

How many sections are there on the ACT? And how long does the whole test take?

The ACT has five sections: English, Math, Reading, Science, and Writing (which is optional). If you take the test without the Writing section (which consists of one essay), the whole thing lasts two hours and 55 minutes (175 minutes) excluding breaks. If you take the test with the Writing section, it lasts three hours and 40 minutes (220 minutes) excluding breaks.

When should the ACT be taken?

When students are ready to put their best foot forward. For most students that is usually in the winter or spring of their junior year. It’s worth noting that almost all students take the test more than once.

When should a student begin preparing for the ACT?

How long a student will need to prep will be dependent on their goals and current facility with the material that the ACT covers. If a student is unsure where they stand, our comprehensive diagnostic process would be a great place to start. Most of our students take diagnostics with us toward the end of their sophomore year or the fall of their junior year.

I’ve heard that the ACT Science section is especially tough. Should only strong science students take the ACT?

Not necessarily. While the Science section can be intimidating for students, it’s light on actual scientific knowledge. The section focuses much more on a student’s ability to analyze figures and tables and spot patterns.

What are the primary differences between the ACT and the SAT?

The similarities and differences between the SAT and ACT are too numerous to include here, but in a nutshell, the ACT tends to be a more straightforward test than the SAT but requires students to work very quickly. The SAT requires a deeper understanding of concepts but isn’t an especially fast-paced test. Learn more about the tests here.

How do I know which test is right for my child?

At Private Prep, we take this decision very seriously and have developed a comprehensive diagnostic approach. First, we’ll have your child take a full version of each test and then run their results through our diagnostic algorithm, which will analyze your student’s performance in terms of the peculiarities of each test. The algorithm will then make a recommendation as to which test will be the best fit for your child. However, numbers aren’t everything. Your education director will also have an in-depth discussion with you and your child about their experience with each test to help you and your child choose which test to prepare.

What if my child starts out working on one test, but then we want to make a change?

Not to worry. Though there are some key differences between the SAT and ACT, they are in many ways vastly similar. Much of the preparation your child undertakes for one of the tests will be applicable to the other test. Private Prep tutors are experts at easing this transition for students. Your director will want to have an in-depth discussion before any change is made, just to make sure that it’s the right decision for your child.

My child is (or could be in the future) a National Merit Semi-Finalist. Does that mean that they need to take the SAT instead of the ACT?

Not anymore. Starting with the Class of 2020, the National Merit Scholarship Corporation will be accepting ACT scores as “confirmation” of a student’s National Merit status.

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