One of the questions I answer most often is “should I take the ACT or the SAT”? While some students decide to take both to maximize their chances, this is a big time investment and not worth the effort for most people. The tests are different enough that I can usually make a recommendation without having a student take both tests and comparing the scores.
What are the differences between the ACT and the SAT?
There are a few key differences between the ACT and the SAT that prospective students should know about. These aren’t the only factors that I consider when making a recommendation, but they’re important ones.
The first thing to consider is that the ACT is a much faster test. Taking the ACT is like running a series of wind sprints. Each section is designed to be too long to be completed by most students, and one of the most reliable ways to raise a student’s ACT score is to enable them to answer every question. On the reading and science sections, especially, this is very difficult to do. If you are a slower reader, or if English is not your first language, this could make the ACT tougher for you. On the other hand, if you have extra time on the test, this might make the ACT the clear choice for you.
It’s also important to remember that the SAT is half math. Of the four sections, two of them are math sections, as opposed to the ACT’s single math section. That means that if math is a strong subject for you, that might be better reflected in your SAT score. The two tests have different approaches to math questions, but for most strong math students, the SAT math is no problem.
While the ACT reading section is a test of reading speed, the SAT reading section focuses more on comprehension. The SAT reading is usually college-level, as opposed to the generally easier ACT reading. The SAT also includes graph and table interpretation on its reading sections, since it doesn’t have a science section. Time is still an obstacle on the SAT reading section, but since the reading is more difficult, it’s usually the comprehension that gives students trouble.
What are the similarities between the ACT and the SAT?
While the ACT and the SAT attempt to do the same thing, they have fairly different approaches. Other than the format, there actually aren’t a lot of similarities between the two tests. The big exception is the grammar section (called “English” on the ACT and “Writing & Language” on the SAT), which is nearly identical between the two tests.
While the ACT and the SAT both test common high school math concepts like algebra and geometry, they test those topics in different ways. The SAT also has a heavy focus on data interpretation on its math section.
So should I take the ACT or the SAT?
If you don’t have time to take a practice test of each, you can probably decide on the ACT or the SAT based on your strengths and weaknesses as a student and a test taker. I’ve been helping students make this decision for years, and I have a process for helping students decide. If you’re interested in finding out which test to take, then set up a free 30-minute consultation here and let’s talk about it.