When applying to any college directly out of high school, you will need an SAT and/or ACT score report. Most schools accept either, but some schools prefer one or have certain requirements such as SAT subject tests. Use this guide to help you decide which is best for you, but don’t forget to check with any prospective colleges to make sure you are fulfilling all of their requirements concerning testing.
The SAT and the ACT each have reading (comprehension mainly), math, and English/writing (mainly grammar) sections. There are slight differences in the content of each section, but with the changes made to the SAT, the differences are less significant especially in the reading/writing sections. Both tests now have optional essays. These essays are not put into your composite score, which comes from the multiple-choice section. If you have exceptional writing skills, you might consider writing the essay, but in general most college admissions committees do not concern themselves too much with the essay. Also, neither tests has penalties for wrong or blank answers.
The SAT gives you 65 minutes to answer 52 reading comprehension questions, 58 total math questions with 25 minutes for the no calculator section and 55 minutes for the calculator portion, 35 minutes for 44 writing/grammar questions, and 50 minutes for the optional essay. The SAT reading and writing sections are slightly more context-based than that of the ACT and are slightly more focused on vocabulary than the ACT, although not as heavily as in the previous version. The SAT math section focuses on arithmetic, problem solving and data analysis, and the basics of algebra, geometry, and trigonometry. Formulas are provided, which is an advantage over the ACT. One more thing to consider about the SAT, is that since the new version just came out, there are not as many resources or practice tests to help you prepare. This doesn’t mean you won’t be able to prepare enough, but there is more information and experience available to help you with the ACT.
The ACT provides less time for longer sections. The reading sections is 35 minutes long with 40 questions, math is 60 minutes for 60 questions (all with calculator,) English is 45 minutes for 75 questions, and 40 minutes for an optional essay. The ACT also has a science section that the SAT does not have. You are given 35 minutes for the science section. Many people freak out a little when they hear about a science section, but it mainly consists of reading information on charts and graphs correctly and answering questions about them. The reading section obviously provides reading passages, but the English section is not as context-based as the SAT, requiring a little more prior knowledge about grammar. The math section however, is known for being slightly more difficult than that of the SAT. It covers arithmetic, algebra I and II, function, geometry, and trigonometry. Also, you do not get any formulas like you do with the SAT. The math section on the ACT relies solely on your prior knowledge.
If you’re still unsure which test is better for you, consider this:
You should take the SAT if:
- You struggle with strict time limits.
- You do not like leaving questions blank.
- You often miss details in reading passages (the SAT usually cites specific lines while the ACT questions are more random.)
- You struggle with geometry.
You should take the ACT if:
- You struggle with vocabulary.
- You often can’t explain why an answer is correct (the SAT sometimes asks which part of a passage shows the best evidence for the previous answer.)
- You struggle with or do not like doing math without a calculator.
- You are good with experimental procedures (helps in the science section.)
It is never a bad idea to take both if that is a possibility for you! If you take one of them once or twice and do not get the desire results, take a shot at the other one. Best of luck!