The college of your dreams wants to make sure you're a suitable candidate. One way of determining this is how well you perform on either the ACT or the SAT college admissions tests. But which one should you take? With a little help from the College Board and the folks at the ACT, you have all the information you need.

School preference. Most schools accept both the SAT and the ACT. Some, however, prefer one over the other. Check with the school's admissions office to determine the preferred test. The general rule of thumb is that schools east of the Mississippi prefer the SAT, and schools west of the Mississippi prefer the ACT.

Length. The SAT takes about 20 minutes longer than the ACT, 50 minutes longer if you choose not to do the ACT writing option. Although the SAT is longer, it breaks the test into smaller sections and has fewer questions, something to keep in mind for those who struggle with long periods of concentrated study. The SAT includes six 25-minute sections involving math, critical reading and writing; two 20-minute sections covering math, critical reading and writing; a 10-minute writing multiple choice section; and a 25-minute essay. The ACT contains five sections: English, math, reading, science and an optional writing section.

Reading sections. Both tests require a high reading level in order to score well. The SAT has several passages focusing mainly on comprehension and sentence completion. The ACT has only four passages, each containing 10 questions. Both tests focus on the same skills. Practice tests are highly recommended for both.

Math and science. The math skills needed for both tests are nearly identical, with the exception that the ACT may include a little trigonometry whereas the SAT probably won't. The SAT does not have a science section whereas the ACT does. Don't let a weakness in science, however, deter you from taking the ACT. The science questions focus on basic knowledge, analysis and problem solving, meaning if you have a basic knowledge of science and the ability to think critically, you'll be just fine.

Scoring. Each category score on the SAT ranges from 200 to 800, giving a total SAT score ranging from 600 to 2400. The ACT gives a score of 1 to 36 by averaging the scores from each of its four sections. Both tests give ample instructions on how to interpret the score, along with a percentile score. One important scoring difference should be noted before taking the test: The ACT levies no penalty for incorrect answers; the SAT assesses a 1/4-point penalty for each wrong answer. Students do have options on whether or not they want their scores sent to their chosen college.

Preparation for each test is similar. Strive to do your best in your high school classes and take a few practice tests, and you'll put your best foot forward on the SAT or the ACT.

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