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SAT vs. ACT – which test should you take?


One of the most common questions I get from my students is whether they should take the SAT or the ACT.  Frankly, the answer to that question depends on each student’s strengths, weaknesses, and personal preferences.

Back in the day, the tests were mostly regional: students on the coasts took the SAT, and those in the middle of the country took the ACT.  Now, though, students all over the country often take both tests.  Colleges accept both the SAT and ACT, so it makes sense for students to try both tests and see which one yields a higher score.

There are several major differences between the SAT and the ACT:

1) The SAT is more focused on complex problem-solving and critical thinking, and the ACT is more straightforward.  Generaly speaking, students who enjoy solving puzzles and reasoning through complex situations will prefer the style of the SAT.  The ACT is better for students who appreciate straightforward questions, both in math and reading comprehension.

2) The ACT has a science section, and the SAT does not.  Now, before you write off the ACT, thinking you’ve forgotten everything from science class, take heart – ACT science is more like reading comprehension with charts and graphs.  It’s not an easy section, but you don’t need outside science knowledge to get a good score.

3) The ACT is faster-paced than the SAT.  Most students feel time pressure on the ACT, especially on the reading comprehension and science sections.  Both sections have 40 questions to complete in 35 minutes.  Timing practice is essential to doing well on the ACT.

4) There’s no guessing penalty on the ACT.  The dreaded guessing penalty on the SAT…most of my students strongly dislike being penalized for wrong answers.  This doesn’t happen on the ACT – you just don’t get credit for the question.  If the guessing penalty really stresses you out, you might prefer the ACT.

5) There are no vocabulary questions on the ACT.  The ACT doesn’t have sentence completion vocabulary questions like the SAT does.  If vocab is a big problem for you, you might like the ACT better.  On the other hand, if you have a great vocabulary, this could boost your score on the SAT.

6) ACT math covers more trigonometry than SAT math does.  ACT math questions (especially the harder ones) will use basic trig concepts like SOHCAHTOA.  Make sure you understand this concept before taking the ACT.

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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