Should I Take the SAT or ACT?

Should I Take the SAT or ACT?

In the Northeast, it’s a lesser known fact that the ACT is a viable replacement for the SAT for application to most colleges. 

In 2012, more students actually took the ACT than the SAT, prompting the SAT to announce changes to its test.

Because of the differences between the ACT and SAT, some students will perform significantly better on one of the two. Are you one of them? 

Read the Q&A below to determine whether you should be considering the ACT instead of (or in addition to) the SAT.

Where should I start?

Start by taking a practice ACT and a practice SAT. See which test feels more comfortable to you, and compare your test results to get a sense of which one you’ll do better on after practice and preparation.

From our experience with all kinds of test takers, this is our advice: if you’re a good student and a quick reader but have a weak vocabulary or aren’t adept at tricky problems, start with preparing for the ACT. If you have a great vocabulary and enjoy brain teasers and abstract problems, start with the SAT.

Is the ACT easier than the SAT?

In some ways, yes, and in other ways, no. Though the ACT contains problems that are generally less tricky than those on the SAT, the timing of the test is more challenging. If you’re a student that needs a lot of time to read and answer questions, the ACT may be a lot harder for you. However, if you don’t have a great vocabulary or are not a particularly good abstract problem solver, the ACT may very well be a lot easier.

What kinds of students should take the SAT?

You should be focusing on the SAT if you have a great vocabulary, are good with tricky reading and math problems, and have a high level of reading comprehension.

What kinds of students should take the ACT?

Students doing moderately well (a B-average or higher) in a standard high school curriculum and who have an above-average reading speed have the prerequisites for doing well on the ACT. Also, if you have begun preparing for the SAT already and are not doing as well as you’d like, you should take a practice ACT to see if you feel any more comfortable with it.

What if I still can’t decide?

If you’re still unsure or don’t fit in either category described above, start with the SAT because it’s the more coachable test of the two. There are only a certain number of tricks that the SAT throws at students, so improvement on the SAT—to a certain degree, at least—lies in understanding the “tricks” and the problem types that the SAT tends to favor.

The ACT is not as coachable because preparing for it requires a great deal of knowledge to be internalized and deployed very quickly. In other words, it generally takes longer to improve your scores on the ACT than on the SAT.

Will colleges think it’s odd if I submit an ACT score instead of an SAT score if I’m from an area where the SAT is more common?

No. If you do well on either test, it’s a good sign, regardless.

Admissions officers are used to seeing scores from both tests, no matter the region. In addition, success on either test simply bodes well for success in college. Doing well on the SAT demonstrates good abstract reasoning skills and a strong grasp of the fundamental concepts on the test. Doing well on the ACT also shows a good grasp of the fundamentals and that you really learned what you were meant to in high school. All of these are testaments to your knowledge and abilities.

Should I submit both test scores?

We advise that you only do so if you’ve done extremely well on both. Otherwise, a lower score on one could be considered a weakness in your application. If you’ve scored well on one, then don’t worry about taking the other until you’ve finished everything else in the college application process. Having one good score and great essays or a standout extracurricular experience is far more impressive than having two great scores and a weakness somewhere else.

Need help reaching your best ACT or SAT score? Try a Signet Education ACT prep or SAT prep tutor.

Picture of Sheila A.

Sheila A.

Sheila Akbar is President & COO of Signet Education. She holds a bachelor's degree and master's degree from Harvard University and two doctoral degrees from Indiana University. She joined the team in the summer of 2010, bringing with her a wealth of experience teaching SAT, ACT, GRE, literature, and composition in both one-on-one and classroom settings.

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