AP® Exams vs SAT/ACT

Students often place every college prep test in the same category. That’s understandable.

But as you start to study for these tests, it’s important to know that there are key differences between the AP Exams and the SAT/ACT. Understanding these differences and using them to your favor can make the difference between a stellar and a just-okay score.

As we countdown to the first AP dates, scheduled for early May, we are publishing a series of insightful information to guide you through the preparation process. If you haven’t yet, make sure to read our tutors’ thoughts on what you should do now to get ready for the tests.

So what exactly differs the APs from other tests? Here are 4 characteristics that make the APs a unique and important part of the college preparation process:

  1. Purpose: What is the AP for?
  2. Format
  3. Content
  4. Comprehensiveness


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Purpose: What is the AP for?

If the SAT and ACT are admission tests, the APs are preparation and advanced placement tests. That means that while the first two are used by colleges to evaluate your likelihood of succeeding in higher education, the latter actually sets your success in motion. Virtually all universities award credit based on AP Exams, allowing you to skip introductory courses and advance straight to higher level ones.



The APs are usually a bit shorter than the SAT and ACT. Most of them last between 2 and 3 hours. They also include a “free response” section where students formulate their answers essay-style—without the help of predetermined multiple choice answers.



Here’s some good news: APs are easier to study for than admission tests (which doesn’t mean they are easier to ace). If you are taking—or have taken—the equivalent AP course you are testing in, you should expect the test content to be similar to what you learned in class. It won’t be exactly the same, as each AP teacher runs their class differently, but it is a great start. More importantly, the content for each test is restricted to that subject—while other tests involve (at least) a mixture of reading interpretation and math.



The SAT and ACT are extremely important during the admissions process—but in certain cases they don’t paint the whole picture. That’s where the APs come in: They are the perfect opportunity for students to showcase to their target colleges/universities the range of their knowledge and interest. There are 38 different AP Exams, each focusing on a different subject. If you have mastered Art History or Microeconomics, for example, taking the APs gives you the chance to stand out.

So now what?

Now that you know what makes the APs so important, and how to give a boost to the next 3 months of preparation, it’s time to get moving.

If you need help, reach out. Our professional tutors specialize in teaching for the APs and are qualified to build a personalized study plan for you. Contact one of our dedicated academic advisors now to get started!