SAT vs ACT: How do I decide?

Today, students have the opportunity to take either the SAT or ACT or both (or neither, since there are now over 800 colleges that are test-optional).

So, how does a student decide which is going to yield the better result or whether she should take both?

These factors are among the top considerations:

1) Since challenging vocabulary (at least up until March 2016) comprises more than a third of the SAT Critical Reading score, assess your strengths in vocabulary and/or your willingness to systematically learn and retain a prodigious volume of vocabulary words. If this is not your strength or interest, you may prefer the ACT.

2) Are you a fast reader and can you make quick multiple choice test-taking decisions? These skills are REQUIRED if you are to be successful with the Reading and Science sections of the ACT. Speed must match your knowledge of content to ace this test. For example, in the Reading section, you must be able to read a long passage and answer 10 questions (with few line references and in random order of the passage) in fewer than 9 minutes, four times in a row! If you are not fast, and you are not willing to practice consistently to improve your speed, you may prefer the SAT.

3) Are you comfortable with science concepts and are you strong at reading graphs, diagrams, tables and charts? These skills are required to be successful on the Science section of the ACT. If this idea worries you, you may prefer the SAT.

4) Is your strength “thinking outside of the box” and “connecting the dots” in math? Are you good with patterns and tricks in math? Do you enjoy solving mathematical mini-puzzles? If so, the SAT Math will be your “cup of tea”! If you prefer questions worded in the same manner as what you work on typically in academic math, you may prefer the ACT.

5) Were you satisfied with your PSAT scores, and after reviewing your misses on this test, do you think you would be able to improve significantly? If so, this indicates a comfort level around the wording of the SAT questions. There may not be an enticing pull toward the ACT for you (unless, of course, you are a Science whiz, and then you may want to consider taking the ACT and the SAT…)

6) Did you take the PLAN? If so, what were your PLAN results compared to your PSAT results? If your PLAN scores were significantly higher, and you liked the format of this test better, this may steer you in the direction of the ACT.

7) Do you realistically have time to prepare for one primary test, or do you have time to prepare for both the SAT and ACT? If you realistically can only handle one test, and you really want some corroboration on your gut feelings of one test over the other, consider taking a mock test of the SAT and the ACT. Compare not only the scores, but the types of misses. A good tutor or test prep teacher who has been in the business for a while will be able to give you clear feedback of which test looks more promising. Sometimes, though, the scores and overall performance will be similar. Then you really want to ask yourself which test you believe is better for you, or whether you are willing to take both.

8.  Do you have a diagnosed learning disability such as ADD, ADHD, Aspergers, dyslexia, vision issues, etc, and do you have the opportunity to receive accommodations of extended time testing? If so, most of the students who I have tutored in this situation do better with the ACT. The wording of the questions on the ACT is more straightforward, and with the extra time, the test is usually a better fit. In addition, extended time testing on the ACT is structured to allow a student to manage how much time he wants to allot to individual sections, giving him the opportunity to take more time on those sections which are more personally challenging. Extended time testing on the SAT is very different; typically a student receives exactly 50% more time per individual section on the SAT.

Let me know how you decided which test to take?

Did it work out as you had planned?

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