Which Should You Take: The SAT® vs ACT®

Imagine for a minute that it’s your senior year and you’ve just gotten the acceptance letter to your dream university. All that hard work you’ve put in over the last couple of years finally paid off!

How do you make that a reality?

While admissions officers look for a variety of factors to choose whether or not to accept you into their programs, one of the most important are your SAT or ACT test scores.

It’s true that some colleges have moved away from test score importance, especially since COVID, but many of the top universities still use them as a guiding principle in their admissions rubrics.

A question we hear from a lot of our one-on-one students: which test is right for them?

Do Some Colleges Prefer the SAT or ACT?

A common myth is that you need to take a specific test for specific colleges. We often hear that students believe that elite colleges especially prefer the SAT or that the ACT is preferred by some state schools.

The truth?

All universities and colleges that require a standardized test score for admittance will accept either exam.

There may be a bit of admissions bias towards the SAT, but Harvard showed that 31% of students admitted in 2021 submitted the ACT.

A lot of it really comes down to what’s popular in your region, but there’s nothing stopping you from taking the test that’s actually right for you and your strengths.

Breaking Down the Differences Between the SAT and ACT

The SAT actually just went through some huge changes as recently as 2016, making that test different from the ones your parents might be familiar with.

Both tests follow a pretty similar test structure, though they do have some differences.

The SAT includes:

  • Reading
  • Writing & Language
  • Math
  • Math section where you may not use a calculator

On the other hand, the ACT includes:

  • English
  • Math
  • Reading
  • Science Reasoning
  • Essay (Optional)

The big difference between the two, of course, is the addition of Science Reasoning in the ACT and the calculator-free session in the SAT.

With the SAT, you also get more time per question because you’ll have 3 hours total with that exam versus the 2 hours and 55 minutes in the ACT.

If you feel that you need more time while taking a standardized test, the SAT might be the better option for you.

The Importance of Math in Your Composite Score

Before you start booking your SAT test time, let’s take a deeper look at what’s important in the exam.

Both exams place an emphasis on algebra, though the ACT has a much larger focus on geometry. It also includes more questions on trigonometry and a few other concepts that the SAT doesn’t include at all.

One key change from the ACT to SAT? How much math affects your overall score.

While the ACT includes more math concepts overall, it gets averaged out with the other topics in the exam and accounts for only 25% of your score.

The SAT, on the other hand, makes up 50% of your entire composite score.

If math isn’t your strongest subject, you might opt for the ACT even though it covers a few additional topics.

Find the Right Test for You

You of course can do some research and decide which test is the most common exam submitted to your preferred colleges, but we strongly recommend taking the exam that’s best for you and your skillset.

It’s not necessary to take both exams, but you can decide which is best by taking both practice tests. You can download and take practice exams for the SAT and a practice test for the ACT.

See how you score, what you struggle with, and come up with a plan to improve your scores and focus on the one that works best for your strengths.

Investing the time early on can pay off with a better score down the road.