SAT or ACT: Which Test to Take?

One question I get asked all the time by students and parents alike is “Should I take the SAT or ACT”?

First you should know that all US colleges accept either exam. They both contain math, reading, and English/writing sections, and for both tests, you DO NOT get penalized for wrong answers (so you should never leave anything blank).

However, there are significant differences between the two tests, and of course you should choose the test more suited to your particular strengths and style. Let’s take a look at this SAT vs. ACT comparison chart.

Look at the number of questions and the time per section for each test. I’ve done the math for you. You have an average of 1 minute and 10 seconds to answer each SAT question, and 36 seconds per question for the ACT. So although the ACT, and particularly the math, is somewhat easier, you need to move very fast through the questions.

Also, you should know that there is more geometry and trig on the ACT than the SAT. You will also notice that the ACT has a science section, while the SAT doesn’t. But I must tell you that it really doesn’t much measure your knowledge of science; it is more testing your ability to quickly and accurately interpret data, charts, tables, etc.

So here is the “bottom-line”: IF You're not a fast reader and test-taker, IF you can work through math problems without a calculator, and IF You’re comfortable finding evidence to support your answers, then the SAT is probably the test for you.

On the other hand, IF you ARE a fast test-taker, IF you like geometry and trig, and IF you are skilled at analyzing and interpreting charts, graphs and tables, then you are likely a better ACT candidate.

In any case, the best advice I can give you is to take full timed practice tests of both, and do a comparison yourself. This way, you will get a real feel for both exams and be better positioned to make the best decision as to which test to take.

You can access free SAT and ACT practice tests here.

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