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/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 | David Wilkinson

"[My son] was feeling overwhelmed by time pressure in his exams. David has really built up his confidence and time-management and his scores have risen because of it." ... 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!"

SAT II [Physics] | Dr Katherine Wiles

"Tests have been a challenge for [my son] who has had many tutors before you (until now you and the math tutor are the only tutors who have actually made his score go up!). He got his best test score to date." ... See Dr Katherine Wiles's tutoring profile.

ACT Tutoring via Skype during Coronavirus | Samara Melwani

""[My daughter] has not yet taken the ACT, but Samara has been a pleasure to work with. She is warm and focused, gives clear guidance and homework, and is flexible for meeting by Skype (especially important with COVID-19, but she was already doing it before because [my daughter]'s school and sports schedule was complicated)."" ... See Samara Melwani's tutoring profile.

ACT & University Admissions Counselling | Talal Al-Nawab

"Going into the journey to university at the start of Year 12, I feared that seeking advice about my personal interests, regarding university and my future, with someone that I did not know might result in inadequate advice or shifting of my opinion towards some sort of ‘standard’ university choice or future path. Just after the first session with Talal, I could tell that I was mistaken in thinking so. Talal made me feel so comfortable with making many important choices. He let me know what was objectively favourable while at the same time keeping in mind that my opinion and interests were the main driving force influencing the process. His academic mentorship was highly valuable and helped me stay on track with my IB at school as well as allowing me to fully explore my academic interests through suggested summer programmes. Along the way, Talal also gave me help to prepare for the ACT test, formulate my personal statements and application letter, and ultimately come down to making the right choice. His sense of confidence and his undoubting manner of answering my questions took me from a wide field of choices and doubt to an assured set of possible paths and opportunities to consider for my future as I ended up applying to top universities in both the UK and Europe. I could not have been more pleased with Talal as a university counsellor and mentor to guide me along my path." ... See Talal Al-Nawab's tutoring profile.

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 grew up in a family that moved every few years, so I attended school first in private academies in Singapore, then the U.S. public school system. I went on to Harvard University, where I focused on the social sciences and graduated with a degree in Women & Gender Studies. After working in tech in the US, including over 3 years building and leading the customer support organization at Uber, I am currently pursuing a Master of Science at the London School of Economics.

As a lifelong bookworm and overall nerd, I look to bring that excitement for learning to those around me, be that within a classroom or in the workplace. During my undergraduate years, I focused my extracurricular time tutoring in and leading an organization that provided free English Second Language classes. At Uber, I personally coached 11 direct reports to develop leadership, analytical, and people management skills, either directly promoting or facilitating their promotion to higher level roles within the company.

I am well versed in the US system, including AP and college entrance exams, and I particularly enjoy working with students through the entire admissions processes, especially when it comes to personal essays. In addition, I can support any students looking to gain presentation and data analysis skills. You can always count of me to bring some humor and levity to facilitate learning, whether the topic is the SAT exam or using Excel. ...
I have experience teaching a range of ages, both privately part-time and in full time employment as a teacher at Hurstpierpoint College, where I worked for a year before starting my degree at Oxford University. I have a particular interest in entrance into the UK's top schools and Universities, teaching 11 plus, Common Entrance, and preparing students for Oxbridge. I am aided by a detailed understanding of UK independent schools as well as experience preparing for the American education system at ISEE and SSAT level in particular. I have delivered private tuition to children between 5 and 20 years. I find tutoring immensely rewarding and particularly enjoy the focused nature of assisting an individual with their academic goals. ...
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. ...
I am a driven and enthusiastic tutor with over 8 years of tutoring experience. I have a passion for learning, and am currently completing a doctorate in Clinical Psychology at UCL.

Given my academic background, I have experience teaching GCSE, A level and undergraduate level Psychology. I also have experience tutoring creative writing, English literature / language, and maths.

I have spent time training and working at The Princeton Review in New York where I taught English as a second language to children and adults, and worked with highly driven students on US boarding school and university test preparation (SSATs, SATs, ACTs). I have a specialized knowledge of US higher education.

I have spent time working in a private children’s therapy clinic, and my career has lent itself to working with students with a diverse range of learning styles, including working with students with special learning needs (i.e. ADHD, autism spectrum, dyslexia / dyspraxia / dyscalculia etc).

I hold an MA in Clinical Psychology, and a BA in Sociology from the University of Toronto. I believe in recognising the unique potential in each of the students I work with. ...
Having worked in the education space for over four 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 Mathematics 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. ...
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. ...
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. ...
After graduating from Harvard with a B.A. in Neurobiology I worked as a management consultant in the US for three years before starting the graduate medicine course at King's. I taught my first class in public speaking at the age of 17 and have sought out opportunities to teach and mentor others in everything I pursue. To that end, I joined Wentworth Tutors in 2018. ...
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 5's on my Art History, French, English Literature, and European History AP exams. I attended Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee where I double-majored in Art History and French. Before beginning my graduate studies in September 2019, 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 socialising are conducted in German. I moved to London in 2019 to attend the master's programme in the History of Art at the Courtauld Institute (M.A. distinction, 2020; course: German Modernism: Politics, Utopia, and Times of Turmoil).

I am now the Project Curator of an online journal and exhibition space affiliated with MIT on art and migration and Performa director RoseLee Goldberg's research assistant for the fourth edition of her book Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present, focusing on performance and new media from 2010 onward. ...
I'm originally from New York, and have been living in London for a bit over a year now. After graduating from Harvard University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature and Creative Writing (Cum Laude), I received my Master's degree from the London Film School. I've been privately tutoring for years, as a peer tutor on Harvard's campus with the Bureau of Study Council, as well as with private agencies. I also have extensive experience as an Admissions Representative in the Harvard Admissions Office. I specialise in the American curriculum and US College Counselling, but know and work with the English curriculum as well. ...