It’s the ultimate showdown of the acronyms: SAT or ACT? Which test should you take? On which test will you score better? You may (and should) have a lot of questions like these as standardized testing seasons rolls around.
First, find out which tests are accepted at the schools you’re applying to. If you’ve discovered that you have your choice between the two tests, you’ll want to learn a bit about each test and your strengths and weaknesses as a test taker.
According to the test-makers, the SAT is a “reasoning-based” test and the ACT is a “knowledge-based” test.
The SAT strives to test your ability to reason your way through tricky–and sometimes deliberately confusing–questions. The ACT, on the other hand, tests your expected knowledge accumulated through high school courses. Experts say that adept test-takers excel at the SAT, while exceptionally studious and industrious students excel at the ACT.
To really figure out which test is for you, however, don’t waste time trying to place yourself in one of these rigid categories–most of you are somewhere in between. The best way to make your decision is to try practice tests; identify which test you are more comfortable with and which test you score better on.
Before you begin exploring, though, here are some key differences in academic content that may aid your decision:
- The SAT tests vocabulary; the ACT doesn’t.
- The ACT’s writing section is optional; the SAT’s is mandatory (though some colleges neglect your Writing score).
- The ACT includes a Scientific Reasoning portion that tests your ability to analyze scientific data and research; the SAT doesn’t.
- The ACT’s math section includes Trigonometry (about seven percent of the section); the SAT’s math does not exceed Algebra 2.
- The SAT penalizes wrong answers; the ACT doesn’t–guess away.
Let these distinctions aid your decision-making, but be sure to experience each test before coming to a conclusion. Your high school should offer the PSAT and PLAN, the respective practice exams of the SAT and ACT.
If you happen to be a waffling overachiever who performs equally well on each test (thanks for making the rest of s look bad), taking both tests may be right for you. This way, the admissions office will accept the higher of the two scores. For most, though, one test is certainly enough.