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The SAT vs. the ACT: Which is best for you?

As you gear up for college applications and the college admissions process, standardized tests are an essential part of that equation. The SAT and the ACT are the two most common required tests for most college admissions processes, and the decision of which test to take is one most students will want to address before their Senior year of high school, if not earlier. Since most high school students take the standardized tests in their Junior or Senior year of high school, making a decision between the SAT and the ACT by early in your Junior year is a good idea. But how do you decide which test is best for you? Let's take a look at a few simple criteria that can help you decide -- and make at least one decision in your college preparation just a little bit easier!


Does Your College of Choice Require the SAT or the ACT?

One of the first things you want to look into when choosing between the SAT and the ACT is which test is required by the colleges and universities you are applying to. Many colleges and universities will accept either the SAT or the ACT, but in some cases they may prefer one over the other. If your college of choice prefers the SAT, for example, then you should certainly prioritize that test rather than the ACT. But if all the schools you are interested in accept both tests, then it's really up to you to decide which one you would prefer taking.

Which Type of Test (SAT or ACT) is More Suited to You?

One thing that can help you decide between the SAT and the ACT is the type of questions and format of the tests. The differences between the SAT format and the ACT format can help you decide, because you may be more drawn to one format than another and one form of test may draw on your intellectual strengths more than the other. Let's take a look at how the format and types of questions stack up for the SAT versus the ACT:

The SAT:

  • Required 25-minute essay
  • Critical Reading, Math, and Writing (emphasis on vocabulary) subject tests
  • Multiple choice and fill-in-the-blank question formats
  • 3 hours and 5 minutes total test time (not including breaks)
  • In scoring, slight penalty for wrong answers on multiple-choice questions


The ACT:

  • Multiple choice subject tests covering Reading, Math, English (emphasis on grammar and punctuation), and Science
  • 2 hours and 55 minutes (not including breaks) to complete subject tests
  • Subject test scores range from 1 to 36 and are averaged to come up with your composite score
  • In scoring, wrong answers are thrown out and only correct answers are counted in the final score
  • Optional 30-minute writing test (writing test scores are reported separately, along with comments on your essay)
  • Some schools require the writing test - be sure the check with the colleges and universities you are applying to
  • The writing test can benefit you if you know you are a strong writer


Can You Afford to Take Both the SAT and the ACT?

If you can afford to do so, it sometimes pays to take both the SAT and the ACT. You can see which you preform better on and submit those scores. Keep in mind, though, that most students who take both the SAT and the ACT perform about the same on both tests, comparatively.


Do You Perform Better on SAT or ACT Practice Tests?

If you can only take one standardized test and still need help deciding, try taking a few practice exams. See whether you score better on an SAT practice test or an ACT practice test. Whichever you score consistently higher on is probably going to be the best test for you to increase your chances of getting the highest score possible to submit on your college applications.

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