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Should I Take the SAT or ACT? Here's How to Decide

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This blog post can help you decide which standardized college entry exam you should take to optimize your chances for successfully earning a high score: the SAT or the ACT.

SAT vs. ACT - That Is the Question

Your score on the ACT or SAT can be a major factor on whether or not you get into the college of your choice, meaning that the decisions you make regarding these tests are of critical importance. One of the most important decisions of all is whether to take the SAT or ACT. Naturally, taking both is an option; however, preparing concurrently for two major exams can be overwhelming, so you'll probably want to focus on just one. Here's how you should decide which test to take.

One must decide between taking the ACT and SAT

Key Differences

In many ways, the two tests are quite similar; however, considering the differences can help you decide which test is a better fit for you. Here are the key differences between the SAT and the ACT.

Test Sections

  • The ACT gives you 45 minutes to answer 75 English questions, while the SAT gives you 35 minutes to answer 44 writing and language questions.
  • The ACT gives you 60 minutes to answer 60 math questions, while the SAT gives you 80 minutes to answer 58 math questions.
  • You have 35 minutes to answer 40 reading questions on the ACT and 65 minutes to answer 52 reading questions on the SAT.
  • The ACT has a science section with 40 questions to be answered in 35 minutes. The SAT does not test your knowledge of science.
  • Both tests have an optional essay section. The ACT gives you 40 minutes, while the SAT gives you 50 minutes to write the essay.

Timing

As you can see, you'll have more questions to answer on the ACT and less time to answer them.

  • The ACT has a total of 215 questions to be answered in 175 minutes, allowing for just under 50 seconds per question.
  • The SAT has a total of 154 questions to be answered in 180 minutes, allowing for just over 70 seconds per question.

Math

  • You can use your calculator on the entire ACT math section. The SAT has two math sections, one of which does not allow for the use of a calculator.
  • The ACT math section is all multiple choice. The SAT math section contains fill-in-the-blank questions.

English, Writing, and Language

  • All of the passages on the ACT English section are on a 9th-grade to 10th-grade reading level.
  • The passages on the SAT can vary in difficulty, ranging from early high school to the college level.
  • The SAT requires you to interpret tables and graphs on the writing and language section, while the ACT only tests you on your understanding of the reading passages.
  • The ACT contains four passages, while the SAT contains five passages.

Essay

  • The ACT essay requires you to read three perspectives on an issue, evaluate them, and present your own viewpoint.
  • The SAT essay requires you to read one passage and explain how it argued its point by presenting your own opinion.

Scoring

  • The ACT provides you with a scaled score from 1 to 36.
  • The SAT adds your scores for each section, for a composite score of 400 to 1600.

A student takes the ACT

So, Which Test Should I Take?

Based on the information above, the SAT is probably a better choice for you if you identify with the following statements:

  • I am a slow test taker.
  • I am a good reader with strong comprehension and analytical skills.
  • I can do mental math without a calculator.
  • I am good at anticipating standardized test tricks.
  • I don't like science.

In contrast, we recommend the ACT for anybody who agrees with the following:

  • I am a fast reader who never runs out of time on tests.
  • I like science and can interpret scientific information.
  • I prefer to use a calculator to solve math problems.
  • I am intimidated by the idea of fill-in-the-blank math questions.
  • I am good at building an argument and debating.
  • I can answer a lot of questions without tiring easily.

A student decides to take the SAT

Whichever test you choose, we wish you good luck!

To help you study for the ACT or SAT, check out Study.com's test prep courses.

By Daisy Rogozinsky
July 2019

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