How to Choose Between the SAT and ACT

In the past, it was thought that different regions of the US preferred the ACT and others preferred the SAT. It is largely agreed that this idea is no longer accurate. Most US colleges will accept either test. You can also choose to take both tests. Below are a few tips to help you make your decision!

Tip 1 : Research your schools

As an applicant, it would be most beneficial to make a list of which types colleges you are looking at (local community college, state, private, etc.) and look up school specific requirements. Some programs will require and/or recommend that you take your test with the essay portion. Some may also recommend that you take SAT subject tests.

For example, George Washington University (GW) is a test-optional school that does not require applicants to take either the SAT or the ACT, but they do have a few exceptions (ex. If you were homeschooled). On the other hand, The University of California (UC) system requires either the SAT with Essay or the ACT with Writing. If you look at the UC website, you will see that some of their schools recommend that applicants submit SAT subject tests to be competitive. For instance, if you want to go to UC Irvine’s School of Physical Sciences, you may want to take the Math Level 2 subject test.

Tip 2: Play to your strengths

One of the tests is not easier than the other. If you have the option to choose between the SAT or the ACT, your practice test scores can guide your decision on which test to study and sit for. Research the tests themselves, because although they are similar, there are still many differences between the two. For example:

  • The SAT is 44% math based and has a section in which you cannot use a calculator. The ACT does allow calculators for it’s Math section.
  • The ACT has a science section, which mainly requires students to draw upon their critical analysis skills by looking at given passages and data. This section is not truly driven by a student’s scientific knowledge. The SAT does not have a science section.

Tip 3: Start Practice Early

A high SAT or ACT score can open doors to many colleges and merit-based scholarships. Procrastinating will only limit your true ability to score well. Here are some benefits of early practice:

  • You can plan around school tests, AP tests, and other extracurriculars
  • You can plan to take both tests
  • You will have time to re-take a test if you do not score as high as you wanted
  • If you think your practice isn’t helping you, you can reach out for help and try more resources
  • If you do not see score improvement after rigorous practice, you can think about switching gears to try practicing for the other test

Read more about Basics of the SAT for further information to help you make your decision!

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