The Differences Between SAT and ACT and Frequently Asked Questions

The SAT and the ACT are a mystery to many British parents as there is no equivalent in the UK educational system. Read all about the exams here, and decide which is best for you.

The Differences Between SAT and ACT and Frequently Asked Questions

The SAT and the ACT are a mystery to many British parents as there is no equivalent in the UK educational system. Read all about the exams here, and decide which is best for you.

SAT vs ACT FAQs

The SAT and the ACT are a mystery to many British parents as there is no equivalent in the UK educational system.* We often get asked to clarify what these exams are and how they work. There is a rather extensive mythology surrounding the SAT and ACT as well as which exam to take and when.

One of the biggest problems that British students encounter is that the system is so alien that they don’t know where to start. Furthermore, the preparation in mathematics is very different to that of Americans, requiring most Brits to start studying later and take the exam later, which is less than ideal. The primary reason for this difference is that Americans take most of their exams in their junior year (lower 6th), before succumbing to senioritis (a curious but well documented condition in which students at the end of upper 6th do very little work after being accepted into university).

We hope that this page will clarify some of the questions that parents have surrounding the exams.

* This is not strictly true. The medical school admissions test, the UKCAT, is actually very similar albeit much shorter.

What are the SAT and ACT Exams?

The SAT and ACT are exams required by US universities. Students have a choice between the two exams. Their purpose is to distinguish between high school students on an even playing field by testing a student’s aptitude for learning rather than relying on subjects taught in school. If you would like to learn more about each exam in detail, you can read more about tutoring for the SAT and ACT.

When do I take the SAT or ACT?

Most students will have their first attempt at the SAT I or ACT in the autumn of their Junior year (AS year) with their final attempt in autumn of Senior year (A level year). There is no penalty for taking the exams as many times as you like. Only the best score is sent. Therefore, there is no advantage in demonstrating that you can score very highly on the first try - but doing so is advantageous for your quality of life during the final two years of school! There are various test dates throughout the year, but it is worth noting that there are fewer in the UK and the book up quickly.

When Should I Start Preparing for the ACT & SAT?

Many Americans start preparing as early as year 6 (although this is the exception rather than the rule). Most will start their preparation in Year 10 / Grade 9 and take the exam in Year 12 / lower 6th / Grade 11. However, since GCSEs are a very, very important year for Brits, I recommend starting an intensive preparation period in the summer holidays after GCSEs. For students who are slightly weaker in school, earlier preparation is certainly advised.

How Much Subject Overlap Is There?

Short answer: a lot. There are a few key areas where students who have only done maths to GCSE struggle: probability, matrices, composite functions, and interpreting graphs. For students who progress on to A level, the areas not covered shrink and the psychology of the test becomes the primary problem.

What Level of Maths do I Need?

This is one of the most common questions that we are asked. The truth is that if you have only done maths to GCSE level, you are going to need a lot of preparation to be able to sit the SAT II Level I or II Maths exam. This is primarily because you are no longer studying the subject matter and therefore are not maintaining your skills. Even the lower level SAT II Maths subject test is pitched somewhere between GCSE and AS level. For this candidate, I often advise to either reconsider the choice of SAT IIs or to start preparation early enough and for long enough with excellent support.

If you are taking mathematics to A level, the question becomes which level do I take? This question is best answered by taking a couple of practice tests and seeing where you stand. If you attend an excellent British school that has already taught you a lot of the A level syllabus even at the beginning of the AS year, you will find that you are well equipped to handle level II. If your mathematics background is not as strong, you may wish to consider taking level I. No matter how good you are, you will have to prepare for a couple of months as the syllabus content is somewhat different.

I have heard that the SAT has something called “superscoring” - what is it and how does it affect me?

Superscoring refers to the fact that, for the SAT I, the best result in each individual section is considered. Let’s say you took the exam twice. On one day, you scored an 800 in Math but only a 650 in Writing and Reading but the next time you sat it you scored an 800 in Writing but only a 650 in Math. Your total score would be 800 Math 800 Writing 650 Reading for a total of 2250. Students often put a lot of emphasis on the ability to “superscore” with the SAT. In our experience, students rarely manage to significantly alter their score as a result of this phenomenon. Therefore, having one good day is always preferable to several mediocre test days.

Do universities prefer one exam to the other?

The short answer: no. The SAT and ACT are, in true American style, competitors. The SAT used to be more popular, but, in the past twenty years, the ACT has gained considerably more traction. The SAT is even undergoing major revision as these two exams compete for the attention of students. The way the score reports for these exams are read differs slightly. For example, in the SAT, individual subscores carry more weight. This is in part due to the ability to superscore section results and in part due to the nature of the score being out of 2400. By contrast, the ACT average score is perhaps more important than any individual subscore. Thus, if a student is particularly weak in one section, the ACT may be a better option.

I have heard that The ACT is “harder” - is this true?

The short answer: No. The exams are suited to different students. The ACT has a science section and a more difficult mathematics section. For a British student who has not continued with maths or sciences after GCSEs, the ACT is a much more difficult exam to tackle. Although the level of mathematics is probably only a term above what would be expected at GCSE, keeping maths skills fresh when they are not being reinforced in school is in itself a challenge. For reference, American students do not stop taking maths in school at 16 regardless of their subject choices at university.

How do I choose which exam to take?

Exam choice depends on the student. The questioning on the ACT is often considered more straightforward by students. Students often prefer the ACT initially as an exam due to its familiar style. Many students start out disliking the SAT but find that, over time, they improve more with it than they expected. We recommend that you take a practice test in both exams if you have the time to make a decision. Realistically, however, your circumstances as a student will often dictate which exam is best for you.

English is not my first language, and the SAT vocabulary is hard. Does that affect which exam I should take?

The short answer is, again, no. Our international students often find the SAT I vocabulary very difficult. It is explicitly tested unlike with the ACT. The vocabulary is a small portion of the exam, and therefore should not be the sole decision-making tool. We have tutors who are very adept at helping students to tackle SAT vocabulary. The very good news here is that the SAT is changing, and the vocabulary will no longer be a part of the exam.

I have heard that the SAT is changing! What do I do?

You’re absolutely right. The SAT I is fundamentally changing. The last test date for the old SAT I is January 2016. Please see our dedicated page on the SAT I and what changes in the SAT I might mean for you.

Where Can I learn More?

  • College Board: The ultimate guide to the exams and written by the test producers.
  • College Confidential: An excellent blog where students can communicate about their preparation. This can be intimidating but an excellent resource for Q&As.
  • Spark Notes: A surprisingly comprehensive guide with some excellent questions. Top tip: Use this for some extra (and free!) maths preparation.
  • The Official Guide to the SAT: The only practice test resource worth using. If you think that you may finish this book of 10 complete tests, then continue to the resources below and save the last couple of tests for practice right before the exam..
  • The Official Guide to the SAT Subject Tests: There is only one released test per exam so use wisely!.
  • Princeton Review: Arguably better written for the test content but easier than the actual exam.
  • Barron's: Extremely comprehensive but practice tests are more difficult than the exam.

Selected SAT & ACT Testimonials

Please see below some example SAT & ACT Testimonials that we have received. If you would like to hear more, you may be interested to read about our tutor guarantee or to read about Wentworth Tutors' philosophy and approach in a letter to parents from Dr Katherine Wiles, our Founder. Alternatively, some more SAT & ACT Testimonials can be found on our dedicated testimonials page, where you can filter by subject.

SAT | Peter Minnig

"Peter has worked really well with [my son]. And [my son] would definitely like to schedule more classes with Peter." ... See Peter Minnig's tutoring profile.

SAT/ACT | Sophia Ohler

"We're very impressed with Sophia, she's lovely and [my daughter] gets on with her very well. Sophia is very inspiring and a good role model for [her]." ... See Sophia Ohler's tutoring profile.

SAT II [Chemistry] | Dr Katherine Wiles

"Katherine was fantastic at knowing what parts of the Chemistry syllabus I hadn’t covered. My score improved from a 650 to a 790!" ... See Dr Katherine Wiles's tutoring profile.

SAT | David Wilkinson

"I just want to let you know that the SATs went well for me yesterday. Nothing tripped me up. Thank you very much for the hours of tutoring. They certainly helped me a lot." ... See David Wilkinson's tutoring profile.

SAT | Wentworth Education Private Tutoring

"[The tutor] was fantastic at knowing what parts of the Chemistry syllabus I hadn’t covered. My score improved from a 650 to a 790!"

Selected Profiles of our SAT & ACT Tutors

Please see below some example profiles of the SAT & ACT Tutors that we represent. If you would like to hear more, you may be interested to read about our tutor selection criteria or to read about Wentworth Tutors' philosophy and approach in a letter to parents from Dr Katherine Wiles, our Founder. Alternatively, some more profiles of our SAT & ACT Tutors can be found on our dedicated tutors page, where you can filter by subject.

I was brought up in Paris and moved to London to study at Imperial College, where I obtained a Bachelor’s and Master's degree in Theoretical Physics with High First Class honours. My research focused on the way in which alternative logic systems can help us bridge the gap between quantum mechanics and relativity. I was awarded Associateship of the Royal College of Science.

Although I am a science specialist, I also have a strong background in English and Verbal Reasoning. I sat the GRE in 2016 for entrance to US Grad School and got exceptionally good grades (Verbal Reasoning - 99th percentile, Analytical Writing - 93rd percentile).

Since 2011, I have offered private tuition for all major examination boards as well as working for the Imperial College summer schools. ...
Caitlin is currently in her final year of Kings college London Graduate medical school. She has been working for Wentworth since 2015 focusing on US school and college admissions. She is a dual (US and UK) citizen who graduated with a BA in Neurobiology and Anthropology from Harvard University in 2015. In Harvard, she worked for Veritas Education for 2 years and travelled to China to work as both a teacher and US college consultant. She also tutored children with Autism throughout college. Researching and teaching children who have learning difficulties is one of her main interests. Before Harvard she completed her GCSE's and A-levels (Maths, Chemistry, Biology, Geography) in the UK. Alongside her final year of A-levels she completed the SAT and SAT II exams and went through the US college application process alongside her UK UCAS application. She is well versed in the various US entrance exams and the US application process. ...
I was born and raised in Washington, D.C., attending area private schools until matriculating at Yale University in 2008. After graduating, I spent several years working in PR, Marketing, and Content Creation roles before moving to the UK in 2017 to pursue my MPhil in Film and Screen Studies at Cambridge. I have worked with Wentworth since 2018, focusing mainly on US entrance exams for secondary schools and university.

I have worked successfully with clients both in-person and via Skype. In addition to teaching the material covered in these exams, I use my personal familiarity with the tests to focus particularly on helping students get used to the stressful and strange test-taking experience so that their results can best represent their full potential. ...
I was born and raised in the United Kingdom and won an academic scholarship to Sherborne School at the age of 13. When I was 16 years old my family relocated to the United States, so I completed my secondary education at a competitive high school in the Houston area. After quickly adjusting to the American system, I achieved excellent results in my AP exams and SAT tests and received a place in the prestigious Plan II Honours program at the University of Texas at Austin. I graduated a year early with high honours, a second major in History, and an undergraduate dissertation that was awarded special honours. I have years of experience tutoring for the SAT and ACT exams and experience teaching the American public school curriculum in the humanities. I specialize in preparing international students wishing to attend university in the United States. ...
I am a recent graduate of the University of Oxford, where I received a first-class MPhil in Politics. At Oxford, I was a Rhodes Scholar at New College, and I served as Tutor in politics at Keble College. Prior to my arrival in the United Kingdom, I attended Brown University, where I double-majored in history and economics, graduating Phi Beta Kappa. Following graduation in 2014, I spent a year as a Fulbright Scholar at the Colegio de Mexico in Mexico City. Born and raised in Los Angeles, California, I am fluent in both American and British education systems — and have a passion for education, more broadly. My areas of expertise are maths, history, Spanish, College Counselling and preparation across the board. ...
Having worked in the education space for over two years as a Senior Academic Mentor and University Admissions Counsellor, I have built up my experience of working with a wide range of students. My primary focus has been on SAT & ACT tutoring, US & UK University Admissions Counselling, and general high school Math tutoring. I take a 'mentorship' approach to my work with students and focus on building a strong relationship based on trust and respect to ensure that students feel well-supported and are able to improve their abilities and performance levels. ...
My passion for tutoring stems from my own personal experience with understanding the impact that excellent teachers can have on our lives. At Winchester College, the leadership and inspiration of my teachers motivated me to succeed, and is reflected in my consistently strong academic record. Having now graduated with a First Class BA in Natural Sciences from Cambridge and successfully completed an MSc in Environmental Technology from Imperial College London, I am keen to share my understanding and passion of the sciences and mathematics with new students. ...
I am a current graduate student, attending the Courtauld Institute of Art where I study German Modernism. I specialise in US exam preparation, reading comprehension, Art History, English (writing and literature), History, and French language. I have benefitted from one-on-one tutoring throughout my education in order to prepare for standardized tests (ISEE/SSAT, SAT/ACT, GRE), which helped me build confidence and was a huge factor in my success. Having grown up in Manhattan and having attended boarding school and university in the US, I am intimately acquainted with the American educational system and the testing and admissions processes for US high schools and universities. Because of my background, I am well equipped to provide admission advice and counselling.

In New York, I attended a private, all-girls school, Convent of the Sacred Heart, before continuing my education at Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford, Connecticut. At Choate, I took many Advanced Placement and honors courses. I achieved a 35 (of 36) on my ACT and attended Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee where I double-majored in Art History and French. Before beginning my graduate studies this September, in order to improve my German, I attended the Middlebury College Intensive Summer Language Program in Middlebury, Vermont, an 8 week, immersive program where all classes and socializing are conducted in German.

After I graduated from Vanderbilt in 2018 while applying to graduate school, I worked with Curator Stephen Brown and Chief Curator Darsie Alexander at the Jewish Museum in New York City where I wrote exhibition texts, proposals, and theses, researched and conceptualised upcoming exhibitions, and conducted primary source research, translation, and transcription in French and German. This past year, I also worked at the Rubin Museum of Art, a Himalayan and Buddhist art museum, in the Programming Department under Head of Programs and Engagement, Tim McHenry, and Head of Programs, Dawn Eshelman, where I focused on lecture, meditation, and performance series. I conceptualised and created my own program that occurred on Slow Art Day in April 2019, consisting of activities to foster deeper examination of specific artworks over three one-hour long periods. ...
I grew up in London, and was in school at Godolphin and Latymer before deciding to head to the US to attend Phillips Academy, Andover for high school. I then went on to study History of Art at Harvard University where I graduated magna cum laude with high honors. After two years working at an art gallery in New York, I returned to London where I received my Master's degree at the Courtauld Institute of Art. I have since returned to New York where I am working toward my PhD at CUNY Graduate Center.

Throughout my education I have benefitted form tutoring to help me achieve my academic goals and I understand how effective one-on-one teaching can be in preparing for big tests, catching up in a specific subject, and also building confidence. I am particularly experienced in helping students prepare for US independent and boarding school entrance examinations (ISEE, SSAT) and in working with students who need help with their personal essays or general applications for boarding school or university. As an alumni admission representative at Phillips Academy, I have worked with many students who are working on preparing applications to boarding schools and enjoy helping them to identify their strengths and use those to build a strong application. ...
Born in New York City, I moved to the UK when I was 12 years old. I attended two North London day schools: The Hall and University College School. I completed both US and UK university applications. I attended Georgetown University, where I earned a Bachelor's degree from the Walsh School of Foreign Service.

I am familiar with the challenges associated with applying to US universities from the UK, as well as what is required to prepare for the SATs in the UK system. I have worked as a trained English teacher abroad and a junior athletic coach in New York City. ...