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


Should you take the SAT or ACT?

July 2, 2012, Posted In Standardized Testing

Today’s college admission requirements are always changing to incorporate new tests, new schools of thinking and different human traits. More and more students are now taking both the ACT and the SAT, or the ACT in place of the SAT for various reasons. Which one should you take?

The SAT can be considered the incumbent – the reigning champ of standardized testing for college admissions. Data from top schools shows that 95% or more of all students who applied submitted SAT scores. The ACT, however, is the rising challenger: different, new and looking to knock the SAT off of its perch. Looking at the same top schools, only around 20% of students submitted ACT scores, but that number is rising every year.

Both the SAT and the ACT are long tests, but if you have trouble sitting still and taking an exam, the ACT is two hours shorter – 2:55 (plus an optional half-hour writing portion) vs. 4:55 for the SAT. Be careful, though, because although the ACT is shorter, test-goers may experience a time crunch as the test’s pace is faster.

Research has also shown that the ACT may be a better option for students with learning disabilities. The ACT, by nature, tests students on what they know. The SAT, on the other hand, asks students to use applied knowledge to answer questions, puzzles and situations. Both tests contain a math and English portion, however, the English portion on the SAT focuses on vocabulary while the ACT focuses on grammar. If you are a science and math stud, the ACT contains trigonometry and science sections that are left out of the SAT equation.

More recent research suggests that under- and over-achievers each will be better suited for a different test. Underachievers may be familiar and comfortable with the reasoning involved in the SAT. Overachievers, who spend more time on school work, do better on the ACT. Furthermore, although the gap is small, data has shown that boys do better than girls on the SAT, while the opposite is true for the ACT.

In the end, taking practice tests is still the best and most surefire way to familiarize yourself with which test may be right for you. Good luck, and stay awake!