Secondary

ACT vs. SAT: Five Factors to Consider

Virtually no colleges prefer the ACT or the SAT. Preparing for and taking both tests is quite time-consuming and not necessarily productive. There are several reasons why you might prefer one test over the other:

  • your test-taking experience
  • general differences between the tests
  • your subject matter knowledge

To make the best decision, weigh the following factors according to their relative importance to you.

1. You did better on practice tests for the ACT or the SAT.

If you took the Pre-ACT and the PSAT (probably as a sophomore) or you took an ACT and an SAT under comparable conditions (as a sophomore or a junior) and got a significantly higher total percentile on one, you’re probably better suited to that test.

2. You feel more comfortable with one of the tests.

If you got similar total percentiles on the two tests but like one better, go with that test. If you have no experience with either test, at a minimum look at an example of each complete test to see which feels “friendlier.” If that doesn’t help you make a decision, take both practice tests under similar conditions.

3. You prefer to prep for the test that has better official materials.

The quality and availability of official materials differs substantially for the two tests. This can be a significant factor in how effectively you can prepare.

For the ACT, there is one test on their website and four in The Official ACT Prep Guide, 2018-2019 Edition. However, only two of these is a complete, officially-administered test for which accurate scores and percentiles can be calculated. Despite changes to both the Reading and Science sections since 2011, much of the material in the current book is from the outdated 2011 edition of the book. The ACT site has new sample test questions for all sections, including the essay.

For the SAT, eight official tests (four of which were officially-administered) are available on the College Board website and in The Official SAT Study Guide, 2018 Edition—double what is offered by ACT. In addition, you can link your College Board account with your PSAT or SAT scores to the Khan Academy website. The site offers comprehensive practices at different levels for all multiple-choice sections, based either on your test scores or diagnostic quizzes offered on the site. There also are practice essay exercises with real-time feedback.

4. You’re a slow or average reader who has trouble finishing test sections.

If so, you’ll most likely prefer the SAT. On the ACT, you have fewer than 50 seconds per question while on the SAT, you have an average of 70 seconds per question—approximately 30% more time. In roughly the same amount of time, the ACT has 215 questions versus 154 on the SAT. If you’re a fast reader who has no difficulty finishing test sections, and you prefer the ACT, your choice is clear.

5. You’re more of a math/science person or more of an English/social studies person.

Consider your subject matter knowledge of grammar and of math. The Reading and English sections of the ACT make up only 53% of the questions while the Reading and Writing & Language sections of the SAT make up 62%. If you’re stronger in math and science, you may favor the ACT. If you’re more of an English/social studies person, you might favor the SAT.

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