Should You Take the SAT or the ACT?


A lot of students wonder which of these tests they ought to pick. When it comes to the SAT vs ACT, I like to have students take a full practice tests from both of these companies and score them. Theres no better way to evaluate which exam is better for you.

However, I understand that some people are short on time and they’d like a short cut. Here are some pertinent questions that I use as a diagnostic for helping to decide between the SAT and ACT:

1) Do Tight Time Constraints Make You Anxious?

The SAT offers more time per question on all sections of the exam. and could be the better test for you if time constraints stress you out. For example, the SAT gives students 75 seconds per question on the No Calculator Math Section and 87 seconds per question on the Calculator Section, while the ACT Math Section allows students 60 seconds per question.

The ACT Reading Section offers 53 seconds per question and the SAT Reading offers 75 seconds per question.

Keep in mind that you might find the ACT questions to be more straightforward and that this could offset the time constraints. It helps to take a diagnostic to evaluate this more carefully.

2) Are You Comfortable With Geometry and Trigonometry?

In addition, are you familiar with logarithms, factorials, matrices and probabilities? These are the more advanced topics seen on the ACT Math Section that aren’t seen at all on the SAT. Keep in mind that the ACT has a much larger focus on Geometry (30-40%) versus the SAT (10%). Both math sections contain a similar percentage of algebra questions. If these more advanced topics are familiar and fresh to you, then you might opt for the ACT.

3) Are You Comfortable Doing Math Without A Calculator?

The ACT allows you to use the calculator on ALL the math sections. The SAT contains an entire math section dedicated to doing math without one. Some of you might find this to be an advantage or disadvantage.

4) How Easily Were You Able to Find Evidence to Support Your Answer?

I said that this list would be a shortcut, but in reality you need to have read a passage from the ACT and SAT to compare. The ACT Reading questions are arguably more straightforward, but the SAT questions are in chronological order. Because they are in order, it can be easier to find support for the question you are trying to answer. This goes back to question number one: Are you running out of time?

5) Are The Sciences A Strong Suit For You?

Theres an entire science section on the ACT that isn’t on the SAT. Familiarity with basic concepts in biology, chemistry, and physics can be helpful, but this is really a data analysis section. You’ll be tasked with looking at charts and their labels again and again. This can be a fun section for a number of students that love science. The SAT does sneak a few of these question types into the SAT Reading Section.


At the end of the day, it’s best to take a diagnostic SAT and ACT to evaluate which test you should take. If you prefer not to do this, then ask yourself if you can are someone that likes to work really quickly through test and can handle that pressure. If that the case, you might thrive on the ACT if you are comfortable with Trig, Geometry, Science, and know your way around a calculator. Thats an oversimplified take, but it’s a helpful start.

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