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SAT vs. ACT: How do you decide?

SAT multiple choice test with pencil eraser

The SAT and ACT are viewed as equal and interchangeable by all four year colleges in the country, but here in Pennsylvania, the SAT is by far the more popular.  I think that’s because back when people my age (ahem!) took their SATs, certain schools required certain tests.  However, that has changed completely over the past two decades, and now graduating high schoolers can select either test or both.  So, which one should YOU take?

The answer will depend on your personal strengths and weaknesses.  Some students score better on the SAT, others do better on the ACT, and there are a lot of students who score pretty much the same on both tests.  Here are some facts that will help you decide which one might be right for you.

  • The SAT is 50% math.
  • The ACT is 25% math.

When a student asks me which test I recommend, the first thing I ask is are you better in math or English?  If a student is allergic to math, I usually recommend the ACT.

  • You get approximately 1.5 minutes per question on the SAT.
  • You get about 1 minute per question on the ACT.

The next thing I want to know is do you typically finish your tests early or do you work right up until the bell?  If you like to take every minute to check and recheck your work, you’re probably an SAT person.

  • The SAT tends to ask questions using confusing language.
  • The ACT has a science section.

Do you love a good logic puzzle? If so, you won’t mind the SAT’s wordy math problems.  If you’d rather just see the equation and chug through the steps you learned in math class, it’s ACT for you.

The tradeoff is that the ACT has a totally different fourth section on science.  However, don’t write off the ACT because you haven’t taken physics or chemistry yet.  This section is really a science-y reading comprehension activity, so you don’t need to recall any facts.  Instead, you need to quickly process scientific information and answer questions about it.

If you’re still not sure which is the better test for you, come in to TP4S for each kind of practice test.  We offer them every Saturday for $25, and you will get an 11-page score report with a full analysis of your strengths and weaknesses.  Not only will it answer the question about which test is better for you, it will also provide the practice you need to raise your score on both tests.