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All colleges and universities that require standardized test scores for undergraduate admission will accept students’ scores on either the SAT or ACT. Many students want to submit their best results, but because these two tests are graded on a different scale, they don’t know how to compare scores. Understanding how to compare SAT and ACT scores can help students focus on their best test and know which scores to send to colleges.
The SAT and ACT test similar information, but they are not the same. The SAT contains three graded sections: reading, math, and writing. The ACT has four graded sections: English, math, reading, and science. While many of the question types are similar, the tests are different enough that comparing scores is a little bit like comparing apples to oranges.
Each of the three SAT sections is graded on a scale of 200 to 800. The three scores are not averaged to obtain a total score; although students and colleges often add scores together, resulting in a total of 1600 (math and reading) or 2400 (when all sections are totaled). The average score per section is right around 500.
The ACT is scored on a scale of 1 to 36. Each of the four sections is scored on the 1 to 36 scale, then all four scores are averaged to determine a student’s composite score. Consider a student who earns the following results:
This student’s ACT composite score is 24. Averaging helps the 15 in science, but in doing so reduces the perfect score in math. The average score on the ACT is 21.
Determining Equivalent Scores
Because the SAT and the ACT test different material and use different scoring systems, any attempt to compare scores must be seen as an imprecise evaluation. The best way to determine equivalent scores is by evaluating how many students earn below a particular score; in other words, compare percentiles. So, if half the students who take the ACT earn below a 21, and half who take the SAT earn below a 500 per section, those two scores are seen as similar.
Here are some comparisons of SAT and ACT scores. The SAT results used are the sum of three sections: reading, math, and writing. The ACT results are the average of four sections: English, math, reading, and science.
ACT 36 = SAT 2400
ACT 33 = SAT 2180
ACT 30 = SAT 2000
ACT 27 = SAT 1820
ACT 24 = SAT 1650
ACT 21 = SAT 1470
ACT 18 = SAT 1290
ACT 15 = SAT 1100
ACT 12 = SAT 870
While these comparisons are approximations, they can help students evaluate their progress and determine which test might be best for their particular academic strengths. You can access the full score comparison table [here.]
Once students compare their SAT and ACT scores, they can determine which results they want to submit for college admission.
Students can obtain official full-length SAT and ACT practice tests from their high school guidance counseling office. Students who complete these free practice tests according to instruction will have a good idea of how they will score on the actual test. Students do not need to take the actual SAT or ACT or pay for a prep course in order to evaluate their likely results.