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The ACT is an achievement test, measuring what a student has learned in school. The SAT is more of an aptitude test, testing reasoning and verbal abilities. Beginning in the spring of 2005, the ACT began to  offer an optional 30-minute Writing Test as an addition to the English portion of the ACT assessment which will meet the University of California's new examination requirements for the class of 2006 and beyond. You take the Writing Test only if required by the college you're applying to. The ACT lets the student decide what set of scores they want sent. The College Board's policy is to send all scores.

The SAT is a globally recognized college admissions test for 11th and 12th grade students that lets you show colleges what you know and how well you can apply that knowledge. It tests your knowledge of reading, writing, and math. Most students take the SAT during their junior and senior years of high school, and almost all colleges and universities use the SAT to make admissions decisions.


To find out if you are eligible for an SAT fee-waiver, bring a copy of your free/reduced lunch application to the Counseling Office, located in the Student Services building. 


The SAT is being redesigned and will roll out with the new exam in the spring of 2016. Here is more information about the redesign

The ACT has an interest inventory that allows students to evaluate their interests in various career options.  Often , students whose worst subject is Math will do better on this test because only 1/4 of the composite score is based on Mathematics. It was designed to be taken by High School students towards the end of their Junior year.

SAT Subject-Specific Tests:Students take SAT Subject Tests in 11thor 12thgrades to demonstrate to colleges their mastery of specific subjects such as English, history, mathematics, science, and foreign languages. The content of each test is not based on any one approach or curriculum, but rather evolves to reflect current trends in high school coursework. Many higher education institutions are now requiring students to take one or more SAT Subject-Specific Tests. Check out the College Board Web site to determine whether the school(s) in which you are interested require(s) the test.


To find out if you are eligible for an SAT Subject-Specific Test fee-waiver, bring a copy of your free/reduced lunch application to the Counseling Office, located in the Student Services building.

For either test, if you want to take the exam when it is held at PHS, you need to register early !

Other high schools do not offer their site as a testing location, so our spaces fill up quickly with Davis, Esparto and Winters High students.  For the fall exams registers as soon as the two testing companies allow it.  No later than two weeks before the registration deadline ! If you wait, you may be assigned a testing site in Sacramento.  

Many students actually improve their college admissions chances by taking both the ACT and the SAT. With the exception of CalTech any school that requires standardized test scores will accept either the SAT or the ACT, students should keep an open mind about which test might be best for them. At PHS we recommend that students take both exams at least once, just to see if they do better on one vs. the other.  



What's the Difference Between the ACT and SAT? 
The differences in content on the two tests do allow for some generalizations that are listed below:

Students who do better on the ACT typically...

Students who do better on the SAT typically...

enjoy science, economics, or debate

enjoy brain teasers or riddles

work hard in school to earn good grades

don't have to study to pass tests

are "book smart"

are "street smart"

are good writers

are good at reading between the lines

are better at reading for general ideas

have a good eye for detail




Who takes it?
Popular in the Mid-West and the South

More common on the East and West coasts

What is the top score, national average?

36 is perfect
21 is the national average

2400 is perfect

1500 is the national average

What if you miss a question?

There is no penalty for a wrong answer, so don't leave any blank.

You lose points for incorrect answers, so don't guess blindly

What does it test?

Based on curriculum learned in high school.

Reasoning & Logic

What topics are tested?

Math (up to Trigonometry); Reading, Writing & Science.

Math (up to Algebra II); Reading, Writing & Grammar.

How should you prepare?


The ACT is similar to your high school exams, but you need to know what is tested. The more you practice the questions, the better you'll score.

The SAT is tricky and requires you to utilize analytical thinking and logic. It is very "coachable" as you can learn to use reasoning to solve these problems.

Where do you sign-up?





3 hours, 25 min
(with Writing Test)

3 hours, 45 minutes


4 Sections
(English, Math, Reading, Science) plus an optional Writing Test

10 Sections
(3 Critical Reading, 3 Math, 3 Writing, and 1 Experimental, which is unscored)



Composite of 1-36 based on average scores from the 4 test sections

4 scores of 1-36 for each test

Optional Writing Test score of 0-12 (not included in the overall score)

Total score range of 600-2400 based on adding scores from 3 subjects

3 scores of 200-800 for each subject

Score of 0-12 for the Essay

Wrong Answer Penalty

No penalty for wrong answers

¼ point subtracted from your raw score for each wrong answer (except for Math Grid-Ins)

Sending Score History

You decide which score is sent

You decide which score is sent

*Some colleges require you to send all scores, check with the college to be sure



Reading Comprehension

Reading Comprehension
Sentence Completions


Algebra II

Algebra II


Basic Content
Problem Solving

Not applicable


Optional Final Section

30 Minutes

Not Included in Composite Score

Topic of importance to high school students

First Section

25 Minutes

Factored into overall score

More abstract topic