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SAT vs. ACT – which test should you take?


Navigating the SAT vs. ACT Decision: An Updated Guide

Choosing between the SAT and ACT is a significant decision for high school students planning for college. The landscape of standardized testing has evolved, and understanding the nuances of each test can empower students to make an informed choice that best aligns with their academic strengths and college goals.

Recent Trends in Standardized Testing

The distinction between the SAT and ACT has blurred, with both tests now widely accepted by colleges nationwide. This shift encourages students to focus on the test that best matches their abilities and test-taking style. Furthermore, the rise of test-optional admissions policies in many colleges adds another layer of strategy to deciding whether and which test to take.

Expanded Comparisons Between the SAT and ACT

  • Reading and Writing Sections: The SAT emphasizes evidence-based reading and writing, requiring students to cite specific evidence from passages to support their answers. The ACT reading section, by contrast, is more about quickly finding information and understanding direct statements within passages. The ACT English section tests grammar and punctuation more extensively.
  • Math Section Focus: The SAT math section, tests more algebra and data analysis. The ACT math, offering a broader range of topics, includes more geometry and trigonometry. This breadth makes the ACT math section a more comprehensive test of high school math
  • Digital vs. Paper-Based Testing: The New SAT Digital Format: A pivotal distinction that now sets the SAT apart from the ACT is the transition of the SAT to a digital format. This evolution in testing represents a significant shift in how students will engage with the SAT, impacting various aspects of the testing experience:
    • Adaptability: The digital SAT is designed to be more adaptive, meaning the difficulty of questions can adjust based on the test taker’s responses. This offers a more personalized test experience and potentially a more accurate measure of a student’s abilities.
    • Test Duration and Structure: With the SAT going digital, the overall test-taking time is reduced, offering a more streamlined experience compared to the traditional paper-based format. This can lessen test fatigue and help maintain students’ focus and performance throughout the exam.
    • Accessibility and Convenience: The digital format allows for greater flexibility in test administration and location, making it easier for students to find suitable testing times and places. This increased accessibility can be a significant advantage for students with busy schedules or those living in areas with fewer test centers.
    • Preparation and Practice: The shift to a digital format also means that students will need to adjust their preparation strategies. Familiarizing oneself with the digital interface, practicing on similar devices, and adapting to on-screen reading and problem-solving are crucial steps in preparing for the digital SAT.
    • Environmental Impact: The move to digital testing reduces the need for printed materials, contributing to a more environmentally friendly approach to standardized testing.

    While the ACT remains a paper-based test, offering a traditional testing experience, the digital SAT introduces a modern twist that aligns with the technological advancements in education. This difference may appeal to students who are more comfortable with digital devices and prefer a test format that reflects contemporary learning and testing environments.

Strategy and Preparation

Given these differences, strategic preparation tailored to the chosen test is crucial. Here are some updated tips for students navigating their SAT or ACT preparation:

  • Diagnostic Testing: Begin your preparation journey with diagnostic tests for both the SAT and ACT. Analyzing your performance can help identify which test aligns with your strengths and where you might need focused study or tutoring support.
  • Personalized Study Plan: Develop a study plan that caters to the specific requirements of the SAT or ACT, emphasizing areas of weakness. Consider leveraging online resources, test prep books, or tutoring services that specialize in the chosen test.
  • Practice Under Test Conditions: Regularly practicing under timed conditions can help build stamina and reduce test-day anxiety. Make use of full-length practice tests to familiarize yourself with the pacing and pressure of the actual test day.


Ultimately, the decision between the SAT and ACT should be guided by personal strengths, learning styles, and college aspirations. Embrace a reflective approach, considering how each test aligns with your academic profile and how you can best prepare to showcase your potential to colleges.

Remember, whether you choose the SAT, ACT, or decide to apply to test-optional schools, focusing on your overall academic and extracurricular profile is key to a successful college application process. For personalized advice and support, reaching out to educational professionals can provide you with the insights and strategies you need to make the most informed decision for your future.

For all the differences between the SAT and ACT, most students end up scoring similarly on both tests. However, some students do much better on one test, which is why we recommend that all students take a practice SAT and ACT and compare the results.  We’d be happy to give you those tests and help you analyze your scores – just get in touch with one of our directors at info@ajtutoring.com!


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