ACT vs SAT: Which One Do I Take!?!

A lot of students feel pressure when choosing between which standardized college admissions test they should take.  Relax!  The reality is that neither test is better than the other…it just depends on the admissions requirements of the schools you intend to apply to.

ACT vs SAT: What’s the Difference?

If the school you’re applying to doesn’t specify which test they want you to take, then here are some ways that you can determine which test would be best for you.

ACT Test

The ACT has 4 sections: English, Math, Reading, and Science.  This test is designed to evaluate your ability to complete college-level course work.  Each section is multiple-choice and will be graded on a scale of 1 to 36.  Incorrect responses do not count against you, only the correct answers will count towards your score…so it’s okay to guess. The four sections are then averaged together to come up with your overall “composite” score (1-36).

The ACT also has an optional writing portion.  This part of the test is designed to measure your ability to organize and write a short essay.  This is your chance to highlight your writing abilities!  If you decide to take this section, then your additional writing score will be reported, along with feedback about your essay.  If writing is one of your weak areas, then you might want to skip this optional section of the test, but if writing is one of your strengths, then this could work to your advantage.

The ACT includes 215 multiple-choice questions and takes approximately 3 hours and 30 minutes to complete (or 4 hours if you are taking the writing portion).

SAT Test

The SAT is designed to evaluate your critical thinking and problem-solving skills.  For the SAT test, the writing portion is required.  In fact, the test itself begins with the required 25-minute essay.  The SAT also contains Critical Reading and Math sections.  Each section is worth a total of 800 points.  Possible scores range from 600 to 2400.

The SAT does contain some multiple-choice questions, but there is also a part in the Math section that requires test takers to produce their own answers.  Also, unlike the ACT, the SAT penalizes students for wrong answers on the multiple choice questions.  Therefore, you should not guess on this exam unless you’re fairly confident about your answers.

The SAT includes 140 questions and takes a total of 3 hours and 45 minutes to complete.

ACT vs SAT: It’s Up To You

You should contact the schools you’re interested in to determine what their admissions requirements are.  Historically, East and West coast schools lean more towards requiring the SAT, whereas Midwest and Southern schools tend to lean more towards the ACT.

If the college or university will accept scores from either test, then you might want to take a look at some of the differences between the tests to determine which one you’re most comfortable with.  According to statistics, most students score about the same (comparatively speaking) on each test.

Good Luck!

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Lauren Anderson is a certified school counselor who's passionate about helping students all over the world successfully transition from high school to college! After spending 6 years as a business professional, she obtained her Master’s degree in School Counseling and now spends her spare time helping students.

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