One major similarity between the SAT and ACT is that both tests bring stress to college-bound high school students. While the tests have become somewhat interchangeable in terms of playing a part on the college application, the tests have different approaches in measuring college readiness. The ACT measures achievement related to high school curricula, while the SAT measures general verbal and quantitative reasoning. Although scores between the two tests cannot be equated, useful tools can help aid in comparing results.
SAT Score Breakdown
The mostly multiple-choice SAT test is divided into three math, three critical reading and three writing sections. On this test, you earn one point for each correct answer, lose 1/4 point for each wrong answer and do not lose any points for questions left blank. To produce a final score ranging from 600 to 2,400 points -- yes it's true, you get points for your name -- three scaled scores of 200 to 800 are added together from each test section.
ACT Score Breakdown
The ACT is a bit more consistent than the SAT. You can always count on the test sections appearing in the same order and there being the same number of questions in each portion (75 in English, 60 in math, 40 in reading, 40 in science). Determining an ACT composite score is simple: count the number of correct answers on each test and don't deduct any points for incorrect answers, this is your raw score. Look up your converted score for each section -- just look up a chart online or in a test booklet. Then, simply average the four test scores and round to the nearest whole number for your composite score ranging from 1 (low) to 36 (high). Round down for fractions less than .5 and up for those higher.
Comparing Test Scores
In 2012, the national average ACT composite score was 21.1, according to the ACT-SAT Concordance chart. This roughly equals an SAT score ranging from 1,400 to 1,500. The national average on the SAT in 2012 was just below 1,500 points. A 1,500 on the SAT equates to a score between a 21 and 22 on the ACT. In terms of national averages, students tend to score similarly on both tests.
College Readiness: ACT Benchmarks
Because both tests are used for college entrance, it makes sense they both measure college readiness through the use of benchmarks. The ACT is the only test with benchmarks directly measuring college-readiness standards. According to the ACT board, the ACT College Readiness Benchmark is a minimum score needed on the ACT test to indicate a 50 percent chance of students earning a C or higher in related credit-bearing college courses. The ACT benchmark composite score is a 21; according to the concordance table, this roughly equates to a 1,450 to 1,500 on the SAT.
College Readiness: SAT Benchmarks
The SAT benchmarking system is newer but also offers states a meaningful tool to measure students college readiness. According to the College Board, the SAT benchmark indicates a 65 percent likelihood of students achieving a B- or higher during their first year of college. This system is more general than the veteran ACT system. The SAT benchmark composite score of 1,550 equates to a 22 to 23 on the ACT.
What's the Difference?
Now that we know the two test scores can be compared, you might wonder how to choose which test to take? Material and testing strategies vary, so the chart is useful in determining which test students can score higher. On the SAT, students are not penalized for skipping answers, but the vocab is very tricky for many. On the ACT, student can hurt their composite score by leaving answers blank -- as a result of skipping or not having enough time to finish -- but, timing is an issue for many on this test.
Since earning her B.S. in journalism and M.S. in publishing, Allie Benjamin continues to write and edit educational content for various platforms. She also has spent time as a resume writer/editor. Based in D.C., Benjamin currently educates high-school students in grammar and writing skills.