SAT or ACT: Your Guide On How To Decide

Required by nearly every American college and the bane of a high school student’s existence. At some point, typically during your junior year, you’re going to have to make the decision. Do you take the SAT or ACT? Or are you so indecisive that you just say forget it and take both?

Both are accepted by most colleges. Both have optional essays. Both measure competencies in Math, Reading and English. And with recent edits to the SAT, they are now more similar than ever!

First things first…is one better than the other? Not really (though some may disagree). When deciding between and studying for the ACT or SAT, it really comes down to personal preference. There may not be a best choice overall, but there likely is a best choice for you.

Weighing Your Options: SAT vs. ACT

Even before getting to the process of preparing for the test, you have to decide which one you will take. Though some high schools may require students to take one over the other, most colleges allow you the opportunity to provide either scores. So it’s up to the student. Why should you take one over the other? And when is best to take both tests?

Below is a helpful comparison chart from the Princeton Review, outlining the basic differences between the two tests.

So now you know the basic difference, but how do you know which is right for you? The best way to decide is to take a full-length practice test in each. Since the content of the SAT and ACT have gotten more alike over the past few years, deciding between the two is often a matter of personal learning style and strengths.

There are few differences in content. You can find more information on those variances here.

  • The SAT offers a little more time per questions, while the ACT makes students feel they are more on a time crunch.
  • Math – ACT has three times as many geometry questions. And, while the SAT provides formulas in the beginning of the math section, you must memorize them for the ACT.
  • Excel in science? ACT offers a chance for you to shine!
  • The redesigned SAT essay highlights the biggest difference between the two. The ACT essay prompts the student to give your view and opinion. The new SAT essay allows students to analyze someone else’s argument.

Still unsure? The Princeton Review made it easy…take this quick quiz to help you decide between the SAT, ACT or both. You can also find a more detailed breakdown of the differences between each section here.

Benefits Of Taking Both

Without even knowing, maybe you score better when you’re pressed for time or when you can analyze an article, rather than articulating your own thoughts. Even though both tests are designed to measure your knowledge on similar subjects, you may end up scoring higher on the test you weren’t planning on taking.

The even better news? With the new redesigned SAT, the tests are even more similar. Prepping for one can help get you ready for the other! So, less worry of having to learn completely different tips for each test.

Though there are definitely upsides to taking both the SAT and ACT, it also requires more time, money and energy. Overloading yourself may result in you scoring lower on both than you would have if you focused on just one. And unless you’re applying to extremely selective schools, it won’t matter to most admissions whether you take one or both. Make sure to weigh the benefits against the drawbacks if you’re looking at taking both tests.

How To Prepare For The Test

No matter which test you decide to take, studying and planning is key! Don’t go into test day thinking you’ll just pull from memory everything you’ve learned over the past 11+ years of schooling.

Typically, you should begin preparing 3 months before the test date. Note on that: try to choose an earlier date in February or March, so you have time to study more and retake it if you don’t score as high as you would like!

  1. The first thing to do is take a practice test early on. Diagnose your strengths and opportunities. Which areas do you need to work on? Where can you hone your skills? What focus will give the most benefit?
  2. Decide how you best study and learn. You have many options! Individualized tutoring. Khan Academy has courses and test questions online. Numerous books and study guides. Keep in mind that if you’re doing most of your studying on your own, you’ll want to set aside designated time each week to focus on test prep. It won’t just happen on it’s own.
  3. Take another practice test. If you’ve taken one early on, before you began studying and preparing, this will allow you to see where you’ve improved. It’ll also give you confidence when taking the actual exam. It’s a length test, so just being familiar with the time and number of questions will help it seem not so foreign on test day.

Test Time: 3 Things To Do The Night Before

No matter which test you decide to take, the days leading up to the exam can be totally nerve-racking. It’s your first time taking a test of this magnitude. Plus, your scores are one of the critical academic factors every college looks at when deciding on applicants.

  • Know The Specifics. If you aren’t familiar with where the test is being proctored, check it out beforehand. Know how long it will take to drive there and locate the testing room, so you’re not rushed on test day.
  • Set A Back Up Alarm. What if the power goes out? What if your phone dies? Make sure your alarm, plus your parent’s alarms are set. You don’t want to feel rushed or miss the test completely!
  • Do Something You Enjoy. Get your mind off of it! Go out for ice cream. Watch your favorite movie. You’ve prepared for the test as much as you can. Cramming the night before is only going to increase your nerves.