When it comes to standardized tests for colleges you have two options: the SAT and the ACT.

Whether you’ve been studying for the SAT or ACT for months or treating them as no big deal, before you complete your US university application you’ll need to have one (or both) under your belt.
Neither is fun, but each has benefits and drawbacks. You should take time to make an informed decision before taking either the SAT or ACT. The test you pick can give you a better shot at doing well, and a better chance that you’ll hear good news– in the form of college acceptance letters!

SAT vs. ACT : Colleges Like Both

You may have read that the SAT is strongly preferred, if not required outright, by top-tier schools such as Harvard, Yale or Stanford. This is no longer the case. The ACT is now as widely accepted as the SAT by virtually all schools in the US, and neither test will help or hurt your chances of getting into the elite colleges. The ACT is more widely taken than the SAT in the Midwestern and southern US, and admissions committees have come to understand that. The SAT and ACT are tailored for different types of students. So the big question is: SAT vs. ACT– which test do you think you’ll do better on?

Is the SAT for you?

The SAT exam consists of three sections:

  • math (algebra, geometry, probability and statistics)
  • reading comprehension
  • writing (which includes a short optional essay)

Each section is worth 800 points (your total score will be out of 2400) and has multiple types of questions. If you’re planning on pursuing a college major in a specialized field for which one section is more important than the other, the SAT could be the preferable test. For example, engineering schools would look harder at the math score, and a writing program would weigh the verbal score more heavily. The SAT is known as a test-taker’s test because it concentrates as much on your ability to not be fooled by tricky multiple-choice questions as it does on what you’ve learned in the classroom. If you’re good at cramming for exams, then the SAT may be your standardized test of choice.

Is the ACT for you?

The ACT exam has four sections:

  • English (mechanics and rhetoric)
  • math (more advanced than the SAT, containing some trigonometry)
  • reading comprehension
  • science (Don’t worry: Little prior knowledge is assumed!)

There is also an optional essay (unlike the SAT’s essay, which is mandatory). Each section on the ACT is worth up to 36 points, and your score is averaged from all the sections, not broken down like the SAT’s. Points are NOT taken off for wrong answers. That’s not to say one test is easier than the other. However, the ACT lets you display more classroom knowledge, so if you’re a strong student but tend to succumb to the pressure of big tests, then perhaps the ACT is for you.

SAT or ACT: Which one?

Not sure which test to take? Take a look at a few SAT and ACT prep books from the Princeton Review.

Still not sure whether to take the SAT or ACT? Try both!