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SAT or ACT? Your common questions answered

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Many students and parents begin the college prep process by comparing the ACT and SAT tests. The SAT and ACT generally cover the same topics. Both ACT and SAT scores are used for college admissions decisions and awarding merit-based scholarships. Most colleges do not prefer one test over the other. Different students tend to do better on one test over the other. Achieving high scores on either the SAT or the ACT is always a positive when it comes to college admissions.

The SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test) is a standardized test that is used for college admissions in the United States of America. It is a three-hour-long multiple-choice test with two sections: Math and Evidence-Based Reading and Writing. The total score for the SAT is 1600 with a maximum of 800 in each section. 

The ACT (American College Testing) is a standardized test administered by ACT Inc that is widely recognized for admissions in the United States. The ACT score ranges from 1 to 36 points. It consists of English, Math, Science and Reading sections. 

Now, some people may wonder – do colleges have a preference? Do I need to take both the SAT and the ACT? Is just either one enough? Which of them is more resilient? And many more. But, you don’t have to worry. Read further to find out. 

Firstly, let us have an overall comparison between the both:

ACT SAT
215 questions 154 questions
Duration: 3 hours and 35 minutes Duration: 3 hours and 15 minutes
Scoring Scale: 1-36 Scoring Scale: 400 – 1600
Sections: Math (Calculator and Non-Calculator), Reading and Writing Sections: Math, Reading, Writing, and Optional Essay

Do colleges have a preference?

The university doesn’t hold the power to dictate which exam you have to take as they equally consider both for admission. All US colleges and universities accept scores from either the ACT or SAT, there’s no advantage in taking one test over the other.  

Which one is easier? ACT or the SAT?

This is understandably a common question amongst a vast number of students. You would want to score higher on the easier test to get into a good school. If ACT has a lower scoring scale or if SAT has a lesser test duration, it does not determine the difficulty of the test. Both tests are equally challenging and similar in difficulty level. Colleges use both tests as academic measures to compare the students.

Should you take the SAT or the ACT?

When both tests are equally challenging, you need to assess your strengths and weaknesses. Generally, students who prefer writing and enjoy literature and verbal communication, choose to write the ACT. On the contrary, students who are more mathematical-minded pick the SAT.

  • Math: SAT has one calculator section and one non-calculator section along with a math formula guide to assist you for the problems. This accounts to a whopping 50% of your SAT score. However, for your ACT, there is only one Math section which accounts to 25% of your grade. Therefore, if you feel like Math isn’t one of your strongest suits, you can choose to take the ACT over the SAT as it may be a better option. 
  • Take practice tests for both: If you believe you can score well in Math and it isn’t a deciding factor for you, take up practice tests for both the SAT and the ACT. Attempt the entire paper and compare your final scores. Choose one official practice test for each exam and then decide on the days you’ll take them. Make sure you set aside enough time to complete each test without interruption. Do not take the tests on the same day or even two days in a row. In addition, make sure that you’re taking the tests in a quiet place and are timing yourself accordingly. See which test you feel better about in terms of questions and choose whichever you found easier! 
  • Take both tests: There is absolutely no harm in taking both tests. You would just need to simultaneously prepare for both. But this also means that you have a backup score and you can choose to submit the best one! While you can attempt and take the test more than once, colleges don’t encourage students to take the test more than 3 times. 

Read our blog on whether you should retake the SAT: Should I Retake the SAT? | TYCHR Blog 

Another aspect to consider is which state you are in in the US. Interestingly, where you live in the US determines which test you’re statistically more likely to take based on the state preference. The ACT is much more popular in the Midwest compared to the SAT. This isn’t surprising. Many states in that region require each student to take the ACT as part of statewide assessments. This could change, though, as some states switch from mandatory ACT testing to SAT testing. On the other hand, on the East and West coasts, the SAT still dominates as the test of choice. However, the ACT has gained a footing in those areas as well!

To conclude, for someone who loves English but is not comfortable with Mathematics without a calculator, the ACT may be the right choice. For a student who is not comfortable with rigorous or fast-paced exams and needs time to complete the paper, the SAT may be the perfect option. 

Now the choice is up to you! All the best for your applications this fall!

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