Help! Should I Take the SAT or ACT?


Help! Should I Take the SAT or ACT?

This blog was written by our friends at Magoosh.

The ACT! The SAT! As you start your college planning, which one should you take? Today, we’ll look at the way these tests are different… and some ways that these exams are also very similar to help you choose if you should take the SAT or ACT.

What do colleges want – the SAT or ACT?

This really is the first question you need to answer before you consider anything else. To get into a given school, you need to take the test that school asks for. 20 years ago, there definitely were some colleges that preferred one exam or the other. But nowadays, both exams are universally accepted at every American school.

So, this really is an “either-or” scenario. No school will ask you for scores from both exams, and there isn’t any concrete evidence that submitting both ACT and SAT scores will impress admissions officers. No matter where you apply, you absolutely can choose one or the other. With that in mind, let’s discuss some key factors to consider when deciding between the SAT or ACT.

SAT or ACT: Content and Structure

The ACT and SAT have very similar content, with a few minor differences. And for most sections, the little differences seem to balance each other out.

To give a few examples:

  • The ACT Math section includes more advanced problems, but also allows for more calculator use.
  • SAT Reading passages are slightly denser, yet shorter.
  • ACT English texts are simpler than the SAT Writing & Language ones, but the SAT Writing & Language sections include infographics with the text.
  • Even the ACT Science section, which has no exact SAT equivalent, is similar in many ways to the more science-oriented SAT Reading passages.
  • The essays do have a somewhat different format, but they are both argument oriented. For the ACT Essay, you make an argument; for the SAT Essay, you analyze an argument.

So, the section-by-section structure isn’t glaringly different between the two exams. But one aspect of the tests is very noticeably different: The ACT is a much more fast-paced test. Overall, you get an average of 50 seconds per question throughout the ACT. The SAT offers a more generous whole-test average of 1 minute and 10 seconds per question. This might make a big difference when selecting the SAT or ACT.

Still Not Sure? Take an ACT Practice Test and a Mock SAT for Comparison

There really are a lot of opinions about which test is easier. A lot of that depends on your own learning and testing style. The best way to know which test is right for you is to do a mock exam for both the ACT and SAT. This ACT practice test is a good place to start, and you can take one of the mock SATs on the College Board website for comparison.

The SAT or ACT? What Scores Do You Need?

One great benefit of taking both ACT and SAT practice tests is score comparison. Look at the results of your mocks for both tests and decide which one gives you the score you need.

The tricky part, of course, is figuring out what a truly good score is on either exam. The SAT actually offers a lot of official support. Just go to the College Board Big Future website to get started. The official ACT website is not-so-helpful on this front, but this regularly-updated unofficial guide to ACT scores is very accurate and helpful.

The SAT or ACT: ACT Test Dates, SAT Test Dates, and General Availability

Another important thing to consider is when the test is available. You can ask your high school guidance counselor for a timetable of test dates for both exams. There are also plenty of resources online that list the national dates for one of the two exams, such as this list of test dates for the ACT. Here again, the SAT and ACT offerings are similar, available a comparable number of times per year. But the specific test dates and times are different. Once you research ACT/SAT availability, you may find that one exam is available on days that work far better for you.

Choosing the SAT or ACT can feel daunting, but keep these considerations in mind and take the plunge! Motivate yourself to study for your SAT and ACT, create a study strategy, and good luck!


About the author:

David is a test prep expert at Magoosh. He has a Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and a Masters in Teaching English to Speakers of other Languages from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He has been teaching K-12, University, and adult education classes since 2007 and has worked with students from every continent.

David Mainiero

David Mainiero, Co-Founder and Director of Operations of InGenius Prep, is an experienced educator and academic and admissions counselor with over almost a decade of experience helping students unlock their potential and achieve their dreams. Having founded and run multiple and small businesses, David has a strong entrepreneurial track record.

He graduated from Dartmouth College Summa Cum Laude with Highest Honors in History with a focus on Nationalism in the Near East and was inducted as a member of Phi Beta Kappa. Several years later, he earned a JD from Harvard Law School. To this day, he believes that the most important moments in his own education were learning with his peers during his time as a Policy Debater in high school and college.

David knows firsthand what success looks like and how to achieve it; his passion to help students discover their own passions and realize their fullest potential motivates him to travel all around the world to share his visions for educational access.

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