As a high school student preparing for college, one of the bigger decisions you will make is which standardized test to take: the ACT or SAT. Colleges and universities widely accept both tests, but depending on where you live, this may not be a popular opinion. In the Northeast, if you ask 100 adults born in the 1960s, I would guess 99% of them will lead you to believe that the SAT is the superior test, as that was the ONLY test students in that part of the country were offered. If you asked the same number of students, the same age, who lived on the West Coast, the ACT was the superior test as it was offered to them during that time.
Things have changed, and what was considered a western test has moved across the country and vice versa with the eastern test. The unfortunate part of this is that school districts and parents are often stuck in the “olden time” and think that their test is the best. This is seen in many high schools that only provide guidance in the test of their original region. I often get frustrated that students don’t know that they get to pick which test is best for them and often get pushed into the old “regional test.” Part of our job is to speak to admissions officers about applications, admissions, and the education that their school offers. Across the board, with no exceptions, admissions officers all say they evaluate these two standardized tests equally.
Today we will explore the differences between these two tests to help you make an informed decision about which test to take.
One of the significant differences between the ACT and the SAT is their format. The ACT consists of four multiple-choice sections: English, Math, Reading, and Science. The SAT, on the other hand, consists of two areas: Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and Math. The ACT still has an optional essay section; however, the SAT removed it from the test a few years ago. Very few schools will expect or want the ACT essay section, so we will not focus on that.
Another critical difference between the two tests is the time allotted for each section. The SAT reading section is 65 minutes long, the language section is 35 minutes long, and the math section is 80 minutes long. The ACT gives students 45 minutes for the English section, 60 minutes for the math section, and 35 minutes for the reading and science sections.
The content of the ACT and SAT also differ. The ACT has a science section that tests students' ability to read and interpret data, graphs, and charts. The SAT does not have a science section, but it does test students' ability to analyze data and use it to solve problems in the math section. The math sections of both tests cover similar topics, including algebra, geometry, and trigonometry. It should be noted that with the ACT, students can use their calculator during the entire math section compared to the SAT, which has a calculator section and a non-calculator section.
The score for the ACT is out of 36, and the score for the SAT is out of 1600. This is one of the most confusing things for students to understand because the scoring is wildly different. If a student wants to compare their scores,
check out this site: https://www.princetonreview.com/college-advice/act-to-sat-conversion.
Which test should you take?
There is no right or wrong answer to this question, as colleges and universities nationwide accept both tests. However, there are some factors to consider when deciding which test to take.
If you are good at science and are interested in majoring in any stem field, the ACT may be a good fit to showcase your ability to analyze data. If you prefer more straightforward questions, the ACT may be preferred. Timing is also another significant factor. There are more questions to answer on the ACT, in a shorter time period. If you are a person who processes slower and needs more time per question, the SAT may be a better choice.
Ultimately, the best way to decide which test to take is to take practice tests for both the SAT and the ACT to see which test you feel more comfortable and successful with. We think it is not helpful to have students study for both tests; instead, we want them to focus on which is the better fit for them and concentrate all studying on that one test. At Peak, we require all of our rising juniors to do this during the summer so we can look at their practice scores and decide together what the testing plan should be.
It should be mentioned that as of spring 2024, the SAT will ONLY be available to students digitally. This is an enormous change for the testing industry, and we will all feel growing pains. The scoring will change tremendously, as will the format of the test. As we learn more, we will educate not only our clients but all of our loyal followers who are in need of information about the ever-changing landscape of higher education.
Another important topic when discussing testing is the trend towards test-optional in the last few admission cycles. Due to COVID, most (but not all) institutions changed to a test-optional policy. The lack of SAT and ACT testing sites across the country made securing a spot to take either of these tests almost impossible throughout 2020 and 2021. This has changed, however, now that things have opened up. Many schools that instituted these test-optional policies have kept the policy and remain either test-optional or test-blind. However, some schools have returned to requiring testing for the class of 2023 and beyond. As schools continue to navigate these last few admissions cycles, some are changing their minds. Some students are convinced that they do not have to take these standardized tests, aren’t studying, and haven’t registered with either College Board or ACT. This is a mistake! It would be a tough pill to swallow to fall in love with a school only to realize you can’t apply because you did not take any standardized test. PLEASE make sure that you find the appropriate test for you, register, and STUDY!