Should I Take the SAT or ACT?

Author: David Hill

While it’s true that many colleges are “test optional” nowadays, if you do decide to take a standardized test, it might be hard to choose between the SAT and the ACT. There are a few things that you should know off the bat; first, many colleges today do not have a preference for the SAT or ACT. So, in most cases, you don’t really have to consider which schools you’re applying to when determining which test is right for you. Next, it’s possible that your high school will require you to take the SAT or ACT during a certain year. However, that does not mean you can not take the other test on your own time! And lastly, it is extremely crucial for every prospective college student to know that their SAT and ACT scores are far from the only aspects of their application. In other words, don’t put so much pressure on yourself to get a 1600 or 36! Simply choose the test that you feel is best suited for you, and do the best you can!

One way to find out which test is better for you is by taking both of them. I advise all the students I tutor to take both the SAT and ACT if they can. You should take both tests around the same time to ensure that you have the same level of knowledge before taking both tests. Also, do not study more for one test than the other. Ideally, you should take both tests for the first time — with little to no preparation – towards the end of your sophomore year. Then, you can see which tests you scored in a higher percentile on (you can find typical SAT or ACT score percentiles online) and begin studying more for that one. I typically suggest that students focus on improving their main areas of weakness throughout their sophomore summer so that they can test again at the beginning of their junior year. Students typically achieve their highest score on their third attempt, which could be taken late junior year or even junior summer before the college application process commences.

The aforementioned approach is my ideal approach! However, I know some of the students reading this blog are short on time. If you fall into this group, I will suggest a few things you might want to consider. First, it is well-known that the ACT has a science section and the SAT does not. But in my experience, I find that students who are superb in high school science classes do not necessarily do well on the ACT science section. I believe that this is due to the fact that the science section is more similar to the reading section of the ACT than most high school science tests. Therefore, the first thing students should consider when choosing which test is the best for them is if they would consider themselves talented in mathematics. 50 percent of the SAT is mathematics, whereas only 25 percent of the ACT is mathematics. In my experience, students who were quite astute in mathematics fared better on the SAT than the ACT.

Another thing I would consider is the type of test-taker you are. The SAT allows students more time per question, but the questions usually require the students to think harder. In contrast, students usually find the questions on the ACT to be a lot easier, but have less time to do them. This phenomenon is most clearly seen in the ACT English section and the corresponding SAT grammar section. The SAT grammar portion requires students to answer 44 questions in 35 minutes while the ACT English portion has students answer 75 questions in 45 minutes. That is 31 more questions in just 10 more minutes! Therefore, I strongly advise students to ask themselves if they would prefer lots of time to answer a few challenging questions or a little time to answer several easier questions.

To conclude, the SAT and ACT are obviously important tests. Although these tests are not the only aspect of your application, they will help determine what shape your future academic career will take. So, I advise you to start early and actually take both tests if you can so that you can see which one is right for you. However, do not fret if you’re short on time! You still can make an informed decision and do well on whichever test you choose. Best of luck!

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