Inside tips and advice from AcceptU's team of former admissions officers


Should you ACT now?

March 18, 2011, Posted In Standardized Testing

Did you take the SAT this past weekend? Or were you too busy working on your GTL? (For those not in the know, that’s Gym, Tan and Laundry – the extracurricular activities of the men on Jersey Shore.) One SAT essay prompt asked students to reflect on reality television and has received quite a bit of attention.

But many students will take the ACT on April 9 instead of the SAT. Is one test better than the other? Should you take both and submit the better score? Or submit both scores?

The ACT was historically taken in the Midwest, while students on the East and West coasts preferred the SAT. This is no longer the case today, and students across the country take both exams.

How do they differ? The SAT is comprised of three sections – Mathematics, Critical Reading, and Writing – and is considered an aptitude test for reasoning and analytical abilities. The ACT is considered an achievement test, measuring mastery of subjects that a student has learned in school. The sections of the ACT are English, Mathematics, Reading, Science, and an optional Writing component.

How are they scored? Quite differently. The SAT penalizes students for incorrect answers, while the ACT does not, and the SAT is scored from 600 – 2400, versus a range of 1 – 36 for the ACT.

Which do colleges prefer? From an admissions perspective, neither test is preferred. For highly selective universities, you may be asked to submit an SAT score and one or two SAT Subject Tests or the ACT with Writing. Both tests are accepted by all colleges and applicants are not judged by the test they submitted.

Is one test better than the other for you? Perhaps you feel more comfortable with logic and analysis; if so, then the SAT may be more suited for your testing style. Or maybe you’re better suited to a test that speaks to what you’ve learned in school; in that case, the ACT could be a better fit.

How do you decide which to take?
We encourage you to take a practice test online or in a book of both and see how you fare. Did you score much better in one than another? Did you feel more comfortable with one style? Did one test seem easier? Ultimately, you’ll need to decide if you should take an ACT or SAT exam.

Can you take both? This is always a possibility – and something that many students do. It’s okay to take both and compare your results, and submit one or both scores to colleges. Whatever you decide, remember that testing again and again is not likely to improve your scores, unless you study hard in between exams. Instead, concentrate on your classes, outside work, extracurricular activities, and college visits.

The best part? The fewer tests you take, the more time you’ll have for GTL.