Which Test: SAT or ACT?

Wondering Which Test or Class to Take?

For a detailed analysis, read the full article on our blog: ACT or SAT: Which Test is Better?

There is no simple answer.  Any college or university asking for standardized test scores will accept EITHER exam– no preference is given to one or the other. (You will find Texas historically was an SAT state while the ACT was more popular in the mid-west, but those are old divisions.)

Some students will do better on one test than the other, but neither is easy. Most student have similar scores on the SAT and ACT.


SAT Class
The SAT changed in March 2016. At this time there are fewer than 6 official practice tests available.
Students receive two scores: 1. evidence based reading & writing and 2. math.
Scores range from 200 - 800 per section with a 550 as the national average.
Because two scored areas are not combined, higher scores in one cannot average out a weakness in the other.
Three subjects: Reading & Writing (one score) & Math
SAT is reading intensive with a 65 min. reading section containing lots of vocabulary.
Math formulas are provided on the SAT.
Math problems are longer and often contain irrelevant details.
One section of SAT math does not allow students to use a calculator.
English is a test of grammar and usage where students correct passages.
There is no science section on the SAT, but data interpretation questions are included in all sections.
The written essay is option for the new SAT, but required by some colleges.
ACT Class
ACT format hasn't changed in years and there are easily 15 official practice test available.
Students receive a composite score which is the average of four section scores in English, math, reading, and science.
Scores range from 1 - 36 per section with a 20 as the national average.
High scores in stronger subjects can help average areas of weakness.
Four subjects: English, Math, Reading & Science.
ACT reading is shorter (35 min.) with no paired questions and less vocabulary.
Students must memorize basic formulas for ACT math.
Math problems are shorter and tend to be straightforward (not always easy.)
Calculators are allowed.
English is a test of grammar and usage where students correct passages.
The ACT science section does not test specific facts; it asks students to read and interpret charts & graphs.
The written essay is option for the ACT, but required by some colleges.

Other Considerations: 

Ignore the old rumors that say one test is more like school or the other test is better for students applying to highly-selective universities.  These rumors are NOT true. Both tests are challenging.  Both tests are equally weighed by any college asking for standardized test scores.

The difference comes down to personal preference. Here are some practical considerations to guide your decision:

  • Compare scores from previous or practice tests.  Make sure you are using NEW SAT scores not old ones. You can use this concordance table from College Board.
  • If you haven’t taken either test, obtain an official full-length practice test at no cost from your guidance counseling office at school.
  • Does one test offer a better format?  Some students like the predictability of the ACT. Others prefer the shorter sections of the SAT.  This is a personal preference.
  • Does one test / class better meet your schedule? Check for conflicts with school holidays, sports or extracurricular, and family activities.

Unless your previous scores say otherwise, go with your gut.  Take the test that feels most comfortable to you.