Which test should I take: SAT or ACT??


The SAT and ACT College Entrance examinations are the standard aptitude tests used for College entrance.

The ACT test has become the more popular test nationally although the SAT retains its popularity in the mid-Atlantic states.  Effective March 2016 the SAT received a major revision and now more closely aligns with the ACT, for example, the penalty for an incorrect answer has been eliminated and the Essay portion is now separate and optional.

The results from either test are accepted by most colleges today so it comes down to the comfort level of the student and the perceived academic strengths/weaknesses as to which test to take.

There are some who describe the differences between the tests as:

The ACT tests the student’s knowledge while the SAT tests the student’s USE of knowledge-Critical Thinking and Problem Solving.

If one reviews the contents of each test objectively, a strong argument could be made that they BOTH test Critical Thinking/Problem Solving using different formats, different scoring scales, and in somewhat different subject areas.

Here are some of the differences between the ACT and the Revised SAT tests:

  • The ACT Essay is now 40 minutes long; the SAT Essay is now 50 minutes in length. Both are optional and depending on the College, might actually be required as part of their application process.
  • The ACT includes a Science Reasoning test, The SAT does not.
  • The ACT Math section is singular and contains a few Trigonometry questions, The SAT does not.
  • The SAT Math component consists of 2 sections, one where a calculator is allowed, one where its use is prohibited

So which test should a student take?  Probably both!!  They are both Aptitude tests, they are both important components of a college application.  Despite the differences it’s not uncommon for students to score approximately in the same range regardless of the test taken although it’s not easy to compare results in all sections.  There are online charts available that compare scores and most colleges know the equivalent scores.

It really does come down to personal choices, the student’s comfort level, and even what part of the country one lives.  In the Middle Atlantic region, the majority of students initially take the PSAT test (Preliminary SAT) which the high schools provide.  This test was revised in the Fall of 2015 to align with the revised SAT and is given to students in their freshman, sophomore, and/or junior school years.  Thus these students are most familiar with the SAT format.  In other parts of the country, schools provide both the PSAT and the ACT Plan, which is equivalent to the PSAT, or just the ACT Plan.

Ultimately it’s about results, comfort level, and personal choice.  In many cases, students take both tests and submit the best results to the Colleges of their choice.  Hopefully they are accepted and continue on the path to a successful college experience!!

NOTE: Support for the redesigned tests has been incorporated into our programs as the information from the College Board became available, which started with the Fall 2015 PSAT and March 2016 SAT tests. Click on the blue text links for more information on the College Board website.

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