ACT vs SAT: Which is better?

pencilsThe SAT is popular among schools on the coasts. But if you plan on heading to the Midwest, the ACT will be the test of choice. Confusing isn’t it? The truth is that nowadays almost all schools will accept either. So which one should you choose?
Both tests claim to measure how well you’ll do in college. But are they really the same?


Here’s what you need to know:
The ACT is curriculum based. This means that if you’ve worked hard in challenging classes, this might be the test for you. The test covers four areas: English, math, reading and science.  There’s also an optional writing section. If English isn't your first language or if you're an international student, the ACT might feel more approachable because it's more straight-forward than the SAT.

Advantages: All the questions are multiple choice and there’s no penalty for wrong answers. The questions all have a similar level of difficulty.

Disadvantages: If science isn’t your strongest subject, that section might bring your score down. You might feel a little rushed with the ACT because it has more questions than the SAT.

The SAT is often considered a reasoning or critical thinking test. If you’re a bookworm or a good test taker you might do well on this test. You might also do better on this one if you know you’re smart but you don’t necessarily turn in all your work or study for tests. The SAT only has three sections: critical reading, math, and writing.

Advantages: There are fewer questions than on the ACT, so you’ll have a little more time to think over your answers. Also, there is no science section to worry about. The ACT has a lot of emphasis on reading lab reports, so if you haven't had much exposure to them the SAT might be a better choice for you.

Disadvantages: Some questions are fill in the blank instead of multiple choice. Also, a fraction of a point will be deducted for wrong answers. Certain questions on the test intentionally try trick you, so be aware of that if you tend to miss important details.

If you’re still on the fence about which one you’d do better on, you could take both and only report the test with the higher score.  However, preparing for and taking both tests can be exhausting. Take timed practice tests and compare your scores to help you decide.


>>How to study using test prep books


>>SAT subject tests: Which to take and when to take them