All high school students looking to apply to college need to take either the SAT or the ACT. Most colleges and universities accept both for admissions, so how do you know which one to take? One idea would be to take the PSAT and the PLAN, both of which are predictive tests for the SAT exam and ACT exam, respectively. Both will give you a better feel for the format of each test and the material. If you want to know what you have to score for the NCAA or NAIA eligibility, here is a good page.
Here are some key differences between the SAT and the ACT which can help you determine which test might be best for you:
- Strong Focus on Vocabulary: If one of your strengths is English, grammar, or a diverse vocabulary, the SAT might be the test for you.
- More Broken Up Than ACT: The SAT has 10 sections of the test while the ACT has four (with an optional writing section at the end). The SAT bounces back and forth between subject areas and the ACT gets each subject over with in big time chunks, so you need think about whether the constant subject change will help refresh you or distract you.
- Each Section Is Weighed More Than ACT: In the SAT, college admissions look more specifically at your score for each section and how you did in each subject. In the ACT, they tend to look more at the whole test and make note of your composite scores. So if you don’t do well in just one section but good overall, you could still have a great ACT score; but in the SAT, the poor score may affect your status as a potential student.
- General Reasoning/Problem Solving Rather Than Curriculum Material: The SAT features more general reasoning and problem-solving questions while the ACT is more focused on curriculum-based information. This means that the SAT may require a little more critical thinking skills than the ACT does.
- SAT Is a Longer-Timed Test: While the SAT is broken up into more sections, it also takes longer than the ACT. The SAT is approximately 3 hours, 45 minutes while the ACT is 2 hours, 55 minutes. Think about your attention span and whether you will be able to sit and focus long enough to last through the entire test.
- Composite Score Is Most Important: The ACT composite score will be the determining factor for your admissions. This means you could still get a good score even if you don’t do well in one of the sections. Unlike in the SAT, in which each section is taken into consideration, the total score on the ACT is where college admissions make their decisions.
- Writing Test Is Not Required: Having an optional writing section is a great advantage if your strengths aren’t in writing essays. Since the SAT has a writing section at the start of the test, taking the ACT might be a better choice for you if you are not sure you want to write an essay.
- Math Section More Advanced Than SAT: The math section of the ACT includes more advanced math subjects like trigonometry. If math is one of your strong areas, taking the ACT will help you earn a good math score since the test questions tend to be more straightforward than the SAT.
- Has a Science Section: The ACT has a specific science section while the SAT does not. If you know you can do well in a science subject test, you can use the science section to help improve your ACT composite score.
- Questions More Straightforward Than SAT: Questions on the ACT are typically more straightforward than those on the SAT. They tend to be easier to understand just from one read, while many questions on the SAT take multiple reads to determine what exactly you are being asked. Think about your time-management abilities during tests and whether you will be able to grasp the answer they are looking for without spending too much time on each question.