As a college consultant, I get asked about the SAT and ACT a lot. I, therefore, asked specialist Cassie Kosarek of Varsity Tutors to answer the most popular question.
Should you take the SAT or ACT?
As many colleges are now accepting both the SAT and the ACT equally, you may be wondering which test will reflect your best potential. These two tests are very different and you must consider your academic strengths when deciding which exam to focus on. Use this guide as a starting point in your SAT/ACT decision-making process:
You should take the SAT if:
1. You’re a whiz at reasoning, problem solving and logic.
The SAT tests how you handle new information while using tools you already have. The ACT, for example, may ask a straightforward question on a math concept. The SAT, on the other hand, will make sure you know how to manipulate that concept by situating it in a kind of problem that you probably won’t see in your math textbooks.
2. You have a good working memory.
The SAT is often “self-referential.” It asks you to build on knowledge that you are presented with at the beginning of a passage or problem set. While you won’t be expected to come to the SAT with prior information about certain subjects, you will be expected to remember details as you go along.
3. You are able to focus on a different subject roughly every half hour.
The SAT breaks its three subjects up into several short sections, which means you must switch from subject to subject quite often.
4. You don’t mind writing an essay right at the very start.
The first section of the SAT is the essay. If you can’t fathom sitting down to write an essay before anything else, taking the ACT with the optional essay at the end may be a better alternative.
You should take the ACT if:
1. You can focus on one subject for a long time.
The ACT subjects are presented one at a time. This means you’ll have a 45-minute English test, 60-minute math test, 35-minute science test, and 35-minute reading test. If you like getting whole subjects over with instead of switching back and forth between subjects, and if you can stay focused on one subject for 35 minutes to 60 minutes, the ACT might be best for you.
2. You’re good at interpreting data.
The ACT Science test is built on interpreting scientific data, so if you’re good at reading and understanding tables and graphs, this will be a great advantage.
3. You don’t mind a lengthier test.
The total time spent taking the ACT is about 4 hours without the optional writing section, and an extra 30 minutes with it. The SAT test-taking experience is three hours and forty-five minutes long. Keep in mind the time difference between the two tests when choosing which one to take.
4. You’re comfortable with what you’ve been learning in high school.
The ACT features a higher level of math, a wide range of science and reading passages, and an English test built on your mastery of grammar and style. If you feel comfortable with trigonometry, comma placement, and classic literature, the ACT may be the way to go.
If you still can’t decide on which test to take, take both and then focus on the one you do better on. Start your testing process early so you can present the best scores possible to colleges.
Cassie Kosarek is a private tutor and contributing writer for Varsity Tutors. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Bryn Mawr College and specializes in various areas of test prep such as SAT, ACT, and SSAT prep.
A graduate of Brown University, Stephanie Klein Wassink has evaluated thousands of applications while on Northwestern University’s admissions committee. Stephanie received her MBA from Wharton. Since starting WinningApplications and AdmissionsCheckup.com, she has helped countless families navigate the college application process.