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ACT vs. SAT: Which Test Should You Choose

Are you facing the registration deadlines, feeling pressured to choose, and wondering which is better?  Relax!  The reality is that neither test is superior to the other.

The decision of which one to take may be determined by whatever admission criteria is laid out by your school of choice.  However, if the school doesn't specify which test they want, making the "best" choice doesn't have to be difficult.

Although there is no hard science that proves that the ACT or SAT is easier, you probably want to determine which test format is better suited to your strengths.  Each test has different emphases and familiarity with their individual structures may help you sort out which is better suited to you.

Take a look at the following comparison of the ACT and SAT to help you decide.

About the ACT 

The ACT sports four trademark multiple-choice subject tests covering English, Math, Reading, and Science.  There are designed to evaluate your overall educational development and your ability to complete college-level work.  You'll have 2 hours and 55 minutes of dedicated test time to complete the 215 questions on the test.  If you are taking the optional writing portion add another 40 minutes to the test.  This part of the test is designed to measure your skill in planning and writing a short essay. 

As far as scoring goes, your subject test scores, (ranging from 1 to 36), are determined after throwing out any incorrect answers - only correct responses count.  The four areas are then averaged together to come up with your overall, or composite, score.  If you opt to take the writing test, the additional scores will be reported, along with comments about your essay.  The scores for the writing test are reported separately.

About the SAT 

The SAT has 3 subjects that comprise the test; Reading, Writing and Language, and Math.  There is no Science test in the SAT.  You will have 3 hours to complete the 154 questions on the test. Tack on an additional 50 minutes if you choose to complete the optional essay.  

The redesigned SAT, which College Board began administering in March of 2016, has scoring that is similar to the ACT, in that there is no penalty for wrong answers.  The score range for the new SAT is 400 - 1600.  The score range for the essay portion is 2-8 for each of the three dimensions: Reading, Analysis, and Writing. 

SAT Subject Tests - As of January 2021, the College Board is no longer offering SAT Subject tests.

 ACT or SAT: It all depends on you. 

In spite of their differences; neither test is more likely than the other to produce a great score.  In fact, when viewing a comparison of the ACT and SAT, the vast majority of students perform comparably on both tests.

You may not even need to think in terms of ACT vs. SAT.  If the colleges you're interested in accept scores from either test, you may want to consider taking both admissions tests.  Each one tests you in a different way, so you might opt to take both to see which one you perform better on.

However, if you're short on time and money and want to put your efforts towards preparing for only one of the tests, your best bet is to take a few practice exams.  There are free and low-cost practice exams available electronically and in-print.  The Career/College Center has a lending library where you can check-out various test prep-books.  They all have sample tests in them.  If you are undecided about taking the ACT or SAT, you may feel more strongly about one or the other once you become familiar with the format of both.  You can then evaluate your test performance before heading off for the real thing.