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SAT or ACT: Which Test is Best?

As you begin the college application process, you might be wondering which test, the ACT and/or the SAT ?

There is a common myth that the elite colleges prefer the SAT over the ACT. This is not true. Colleges that require standardized testing scores will accept the ACT and SAT equally, so picking the test that you will perform the best will be one of, if not the most important factor in your admission chances. If you want to complete a competitive college application, then you will need high test scores. And if you want high scores, you should choose the right test for you or your student.

If you’re not sure which test your child would prefer or perform the best, you should consider the key differences between the two.

However, keep this in mind: You should focus your efforts on taking ONE test. You will not get extra points for taking both tests, and you will only hurt yourself if you try.

The Differences

The reality is that the SAT and ACT have more in common than they do differences. A new version of the SAT was launched in March 2016 and is essentially a copy of the ACT. Both tests cover the same material, and the formatting is basically the same. You will be tested on math, English, and reading comprehension. The tests will take between 3 and 4 hours to complete.

A few key differences;

  • The SAT does not have a science section, but the ACT does.
  • The SAT has two different math sections; one which allows the use of a calculator, and one which does not allow calculators. In the ACT, you can use your calculator the whole time, but you are NOT given formulas to work with, whereas on the SAT, you will be given formulas.
  • The reading section in the ACT is easy to understand, and will stay constant at an estimated 9th grade level throughout the exam. The SAT, however, will vary in difficulty and some sections are harder than others.
  • The essays are different. Both tests have optional essays. The ACT will ask you to come up with your own subject and content, where the SAT will give you a subject that someone has already written and ask questions around it. Colleges require a writing score, so you must have at least one good writing score.

Possibly the biggest difference between the two tests is the SAT gives way more time per problem, so it may not be as intense for students. The ACT is timed and is at a faster pace. If your student needs time to consider her answers, the SAT would be the better choice.

Which Test Should You Choose?

As we stated above, almost all colleges will accept either test score. Just remember that college applications are more about how you scored COMPARED to others, not the actual score itself. The tests are graded on a curve. The performance is based on a scale, meaning your final score is based on how you did compared to everyone else.

Green Test Prep gives excellent advice to help you make the decision of which test to take so you can focus on preparing for it:

1. Grab a copy of both tests. You can either buy the Official College Board Manual and the The Official ACT Prep Guide , or you can find a free copies of the New SAT and a free copy of the ACT online.
2. Spend an hour looking at each test (including its rules for each section, its format, and its problems) and see which one you like best. I’ve never had a student that was neutral on this issue. Most students love the SAT and hate the ACT or vice versa.
3. Start prepping and focus on the test you like the most.

Bottom line is you WILL need to decide between the SAT and the ACT. Be sure to do this soon ,so you’ll be on your way to testing greatness!

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