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 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 | 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 | David Wilkinson

"Well I took the SAT yesterday and it was actually really fun. There were specific questions where I knew I wouldn’t have been able to do them if I hadn’t done that prep with you." ... See David Wilkinson's tutoring profile.

SAT & University Admissions Counselling | Talal Al-Nawab

"Talal greatly supported me on both my US and UK university applications as well as my SAT test preparation. Having studied in the UK, I was very unfamiliar with the US university application process in particular. It was clearly a complex landscape and I struggled to know where to start. Talal provided me with clear direction in terms of narrowing down my university choices to a carefully considered range of options - 10 universities - that were a best fit for me and working carefully through the application process with me. The essay drafting process can be particularly challenging and I greatly appreciated Talal's approach to helping me get the most out of my essays. He allowed my voice to come through in an eloquent way. Talal's strong knowledge of the UK university system also meant that he was able to fully support my UCAS application by narrowing my choices down to 5 universities and helping me draft my personal statement. Talal also worked with me on the SAT. My English and Math section scores both improved considerably through our work together. I really appreciated Talal's patience, positivity and encouragement to keep me motivated and aspiring for the highest score I was capable of. His knowledge of the curriculum and specific test-taking strategies made a real difference to my score." ... 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.

Dr Caitlin Rea is a dual (US/UK) citizen, graduating from Harvard with a BA in Neurobiology and Anthropology in 2015. She graduated with a degree in medicine from Kings College London Graduate medical school in 2019 and has relocated from London to Edinburgh last year. She has been working for Wentworth since 2015 focusing on US school and college admissions. At 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 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 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'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. ...
I am a graduate of Durham University, where I completed a BA in English and Philosophy. Although I went to university in the UK, I grew up in New York, and completed all of my schooling in America. I attended one of the top boarding schools in the country, Groton School, on an academic scholarship. I took the SAT and AP exams, earning some of the highest scores in my class for both. I have been tutoring since the age of 15, as part of a tutoring program at Groton. I continued at university for English and Philosophy students, and post-graduation, here in London. Having attended both US and UK education systems, I understand and can work with both curriculums, especially with school and university entrance exams and processes. ...
After finishing two degrees from Stanford and Kingston Universities (covering a range of topics from philosophy of religion and mathematics to critical theory) I am now preparing to teach philosophy in prisons and studying to become a psychoanalyst. ...
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 have just returned to the UK after 20 months in New Delhi, India, where I was working as an Education Consultant and teaching the SAT and ACT. I gained my undergraduate degree from Cambridge University, and have over three years experience teaching students from Primary age up to GCSE. I am open to residential positions and roles involving travel. I love to engage my pupils in extra-curricular activities such as sports, arts and crafts, trips and days out, and educational visits. ...
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 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. ...