Should I Take the SAT or the ACT?

Almost every college accepts both the SAT and the ACT. So, most students should choose the test that suits them best and prepare for that test exclusively. The best way to determine which test is best for you is by taking a released practice test. The conditions for taking the practice test should be as similar as possible to what it will be like to take the real test, meaning that you should time the test sections and follow the directions in the testing script for that exam. Most students should prepare for the test that they do better on when comparing your practice test scores using the concordance tables. Click here to see why some students may choose to prepare for both tests.

If your SAT and ACT practice test scores are very similar or if you have too little time to take two practice tests, another factor to consider is which test is the best fit for you. Most students have a test that they prefer. Although the format of the SAT and ACT have become more similar there are many subtle differences between the two tests.

You May Want to Consider Taking the SAT if:

Time Limits Stress You Out  

If you panic when faced with time limits or really want to get to every question, then the SAT is for you.  On the SAT you get 1 minute and 10 seconds per question whereas on the ACT you only get 49 seconds per question.

You Do Not Excel at Science

The SAT does not have a specific science section like the ACT does.  Although the SAT does include passages and questions on science in each of its sections, a lack of science content knowledge is less likely to impact your score on the SAT. On the ACT there is a seperate science score, and on the SAT you only receive scores for reading and writing and math.

You Will Take Advantage of Lots of Free Practice

The SAT has a free mobile app with daily practice, free comprehensive practice through the Khan Academy, and free downloadable practice tests. Students can link their previous official PSAT and SAT test scores to Khan Academy for customized practice on their weak areas. There are also diagnostic quizzes available for students who have not taken an official exam which use answered questions to customize practice.

You Did Not Like Geometry Class

The SAT has far less Geometry than the ACT.  It also includes a formula sheet whereas the ACT does not.

You Can Analyze Text Well but Get Frustrated Locating Specific Details 

The SAT includes line numbers with many questions making details easier to find. The SAT reading questions also go in order according to the sequence of the passage. 

You May Want to Consider Taking the ACT if:

You Know the Right Answer, but Can’t Explain Why

The SAT contains “evidence-based” questions where you have to find the part of the passage that supports your answer to a previous question.

You Like Your Calculator

The SAT has a “no calculator” math section and the ACT does not. If you prefer using a calculator for all types of math problems, you may prefer the ACT.

You Struggle with Vocabulary or Dislike Complex Reading 

The SAT still contains more complex vocabulary, harder passages, and more words even in the math section. Many students who struggle with vocabulary or have not done as much difficult or varied reading prefer the ACT. However, it is worth considering that the Reading score on the SAT can be pulled up with a high writing score since the section scores are combined.

You Understand Experimental Design

SAT science questions are focused on reading charts and graphs while ACT science questions test your knowledge of experimental design.

You Like Each Topic Neatly Separated Into Its Own Section

The SAT is designed so that there is an integration of knowledge across the sections. Although tested in separate sections, on the SAT, English (which is called writing) and reading scores are combined into one score, Reading and Writing. On the ACT, English and reading are seperate scores. On the SAT, you will find charts and graphs in the reading section. If you prefer your graphs in the math section, you may like the ACT test.

There also may be several other factors worth considering. Some high schools offer official SAT or ACT tests and prep. If a certain test is offered with free preparation at your school, you may want to strongly consider that test. It is also worth checking out the dates that the SAT and ACT are offered. Some dates may suit your schedule better than others. Once you make a decision about which test to prepare for, the next step is to set goals based on the colleges you are considering and make a study plan. Make sure that you are allowing plenty of time to study. Look at your schedule and consider the other time commitments that you may have. If you took a practice test, go over it and think about how many skills you need to review and practice before taking the official exam. Use this information to determine when you will take the official test and plan backwards to ensure that adequate study time is blocked off. Plan more time than you think you will need so that you have some extra time built in just in case it takes more effort to adequately prepare than you were anticipating or something unexpected comes up.

-Nina Parrish, M.Ed.
Owner | Parrish Learning Zone, LLC

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