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 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.

SAT | Wentworth Education Private Tutoring

"The tutor] is very focused and identifies my problems very quickly, and therefore is able to help me with exactly what I need. I have learned a lot from her despite the fact that I only had four days of tuition."

Mathematics, ACT & University Admissions Counselling | Talal Al-Nawab

"Our son worked with Talal during high school, initially as a math tutor during Sophomore year. They hit it off right away and quickly established a positive and successful working relationship. We then hired Talal to tutor our son for his upcoming ACT exams (he had done mock exams for both the ACT and SAT and we decided that the ACT was best for him, given his learning profile). Talal was extremely helpful in guiding our son through the process by keeping him organized and motivated… celebrating the victories, while focused on the work that still needed to be done. He was very flexible working with our son’s busy schedule and other commitments, keeping the stress level down. Our son's ACT composite score increased by an impressive 6 points! Talal also helped with the university application and essay process. It was the best thing we could have done, taking us parents out of that already highly-charged process. Talal kept him to a realistic schedule, with milestones set over a number of weeks, so there was no crazy 'crunch' as application deadlines approached. The essays were supported at just the right level: edited mostly by Talal for grammar and punctuation, allowing our son’s voice, personality and story to shine. We are so grateful and appreciate Talal’s steady hand, kind manner and patience in guiding our son through the university process." ... 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 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. ...
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. ...
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. ...
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. ...
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 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. ...
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. ...
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'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. ...