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Which test should I take? The ACT or SAT?


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What are the SAT and ACT, and why do I need them?

The SAT and ACT are standardized tests that colleges use as objective tools to assess your academic preparedness. At least, that's what colleges will say. But they open doors through scholarships and admissions to selective colleges. Yes, there has been a movement towards test-free and test-optional colleges. However, for the more selective colleges and moving forward in a post-pandemic world, not submitting your SAT and ACT scores will be seen as a more declarative statement.


So, when should you take the SAT or ACT, and when does it make sense to skip it? Well, it depends on you, your personal history with academics, and where you plan on attending (so make sure to check in with your college counselor). But, a strong SAT or ACT score will never close any doors. In fact can help you gain access to great scholarships, select universities, and, more importantly, differentiate yourself from the crowd of applicants.


We've decided to put together a resource to help you with the basics. In this guide, you'll learn the differences between the two tests, when you should start studying, and tips that have helped hundreds of students (just like you) get better test scores with less stress.

Covid's impact on SAT/ACT scores

The value of a high SAT or ACT score lands differently in 2021. While some colleges still require SAT/ACT scores as part of their admissions decisions, other colleges have gone either "test-optional" or "test-blind." However, just because a college may not consider your SAT/ACT score for admissions purposes, they may still use your test scores to assess how much free money they might offer you to attend their college (called merit-based aid). Unfortunately, each college has different policies on what they will do with SAT/ACT scores, so you'll want to do some research before deciding to opt-out.

General Guideline

If you're ok doing standardized tests and don't struggle with severe test anxiety, we recommend taking the test, just in case.


Differences between the SAT and ACT

Although the SAT was designed to initially test aptitude whereas the ACT-tested achievements, over the years, both tests have converged to try for the same thing: "college readiness" - but in somewhat different ways.


Each test is structurally different in terms of content, pacing, and the types of problem-solving skills it requires. And we've found that students often emerge from their diagnostic SAT and ACT with a strong preference for one test over the other.

ACT

SAT

Format

4 Sections

English, Math, Reading, Science

OPTIONAL 5TH SECTION: ESSAY

2:55 HOURS (3:40 HOURS W/ESSAY)

4 Sections

Writing & Language, Reading,

2 Math, NO ESSAY OPTION

3 HOURS

Pacing

QUICKER AT 0:49 MIN/QUESTION

SLOWER AT 1:10 MIN /QUESTION

SCORING

Total: 1-36

Average of all 4 sections

Each section out of 1-36

NOTE: MATH = 25% OF SCORE

TOTAL: 400-1600

ADD UP TWO MAIN SCORES

W&L + R: 200-800 + MATH: 200-800

NOTE: MATH = 50% OF SCORE

APPROACH

FEELS MORE STRAIGHTFORWARD

MORE INFERENCE & LOGIC

CAVEAT

~400 COLLEGES SUPERSCORE

~900 COLLEGES SUPERSCORE

ENGLISH/

WRITING & LANGUAGE

GRAMMAR & USAGE, PUNCTUATION,

STRUCTURE, RHETORIC

SLIGHTLY LESS COMPLEX PASSAGES

MUCH FASTER PACED

75 QUESTIONS IN 45 MINUTES

GRAMMAR & USAGE, PUNCTUATION,

STRUCTURE, RHETORIC

SOME DATA GRAPHS INCLUDED

33% MORE TIME PER QUESTION

44 QUESTIONS IN 35 MINUTES

MATH

PRE-ALGEBRA THROUGH BASIC TRIG

STRONG EMPHASIS ON GEOMETRY

BROADER RANGE OF CONCEPTS

NO FORMULAS GIVEN

CALCULATOR ON ALL QUESTIONS

60 QUESTIONS IN 60 MINUTES

PRE-ALGEBRA THROUGH BASIC TRIG

STRONG EMPHASIS ON ALGEBRA

DEEPER ON FEWER CONCEPTS

BASIC GEOMETRY FORMULAS GIVEN

CALCULATOR ON ONLY 1 SECTION

58 QUESTIONS IN 80 MINUTES

OF THESE, 13 ARE OPEN ANSWER

READING

4 PASSAGES, 10 QUESTIONS EACH

FOCUS ON READING COMPREHENSION

UNDER TIME CONSTRAINT

40 QUESTIONS IN 35 MINUTES

5 PASSAGES, 10-11 QUESTIONS EACH

FOCUS ON VOCABULARY, AUTHOR'S

ROLE, TEXTUAL EVIDENCE

52 QUESTIONS IN 65 MINUTES

SCIENCE

LOTS OF GRAPHS & DATA BUT NO

SPECIFIC SCIENCE KNOWLEDGE REQUIRED

40 QUESTIONS IN 35 MINUTES

NO SCIENCE SECTION: 21 QUESTIONS

ABOUT GRAPHS & DATA IN OTHER SPACES

ESSAY

OPTIONAL 50 MINUTE ESSAY SECTION

NO ESSAY SECTION

...and these differences are just the beginning.


How to decide which test to take?


The most common mistake students make when choosing which test to take is basing their choice on advice from Reddit, rumors, or what their best friend says. However, these tests weigh different sets of skills uniquely! Therefore the easiest way to get a better score is to pick the test that leans in YOUR favor. So before you swear allegiance to any particular difficulty, take a full-length practice version of each test and see which one feels better! Trust me; you'll thank us later.


Don't:

  • Pick the ACT because you love math & science

  • Base your decision on what your friend is doing

Do:

  • Take a free diagnostic SAT & ACT

  • Get your scores evaluated (for free) by one of our academic advisors


Main Differences

  • Find that you are strong in math? SAT

  • Rely heavily on your calculator? ACT

  • Find yourself re-reading passages? SAT

  • Like straightforward questions? ACT

  • Decipher tables and graphs quickly? ACT

  • Love geometry? ACT

  • Love algebra? SAT

  • Struggle with timing? ACT

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