SAT or ACT? Which One Should I Take?
By Thomas Broderick
As a teenager, people are always telling you what to do. Clean your room. Mow the lawn. Don’t drive too fast. Don’t get into trouble. Take a standardized test to get into college.
But at least you get a choice of which test to take. Yay…?
All right: I know that having a choice of which test to take doesn’t come as much comfort. Both the SAT and ACT are difficult tests that require dozens of hours of study time to achieve a respectable score goal.
One thing that shouldn’t take up a lot of your time is deciding which test to take.
In this article, we’ll explore some fundamental questions: what are the differences between these two tests, which one should you take, and do you need to take both? By the time you finish reading this article, you’ll have a plan to determine which test works best for you.
So what’s the difference?
You ever hear the phrase “like apples and oranges?” Well, the differences between the SAT and ACT boil down to “like apples and apples.” Just like the Galas and Honeycrisps in the produce section of your local grocery store, very little separates these two tests other than a few small cosmetic differences:
- The ACT has a Science Test, which is just a camouflaged, more difficult version of the ACT Reading Test.
- The SAT and ACT Math Tests have slightly different background knowledge requirements.
- The SAT has some grid-in questions on its Math Test.
There are a few more differences, but again, it’s not worth your time to know all of them.
Let’s get to the more important question:
Which one should I take?
In short, it all depends on your preference.
That’s right: just like your apple choices at the grocery store, your personal preference plays an important role. Just about every high school student naturally performs better on one test over the other. That means before you do a single second of test prep, you need to discover which test best matches your natural abilities.
Here’s how you select your test: take a practice SAT and ACT. Choose two Saturdays a week apart and take a different practice test on each one. Simulate test-day conditions by using a quiet place in your home or a local library.
End of story.
Do I Need to Take Both?
Should you take a practice test of both to determine which one better matches your natural skills? Yes. Do you need to study for both tests and report scores from both to your dream college when you apply? No. That would be a tremendous waste of the time and energy, both of which you need to polish other parts of your application and continue to perform well in your classes.
Before you protest, let me say that I get it: leaving the SAT or ACT score section blank on your application may make you feel like your application is incomplete. However, remember that when a college says they’ll take the SAT or ACT, that’s exactly what they mean. Having that one small blank space will not upset them one bit.
What if my school makes me take the SAT or ACT?
Some public schools require students to take the ACT or SAT in their junior year, usually during the school day. This is what it was like in the district where I taught for four years. If this should describe your situation, let’s look at some of the pros and cons.
- It’s (likely) free.
- It’s good practice.
- Your school may offer a (again, likely free) test prep program leading up to test day.
- You may not have enough time to prepare.
- The test may not be the one at which you’re naturally more capable.
- A low score may discourage you.
Consider a school-sponsored standardized test as a gift rather than a burden. In my experience working with students like you, the three pros significantly outweigh the three cons (and any others you may think up after finishing this article).
The standardized test-industrial complex wants you to believe that colleges view the SAT and ACT differently, or that there are significant differences between the tests. Insidious untruths, I say! Invest some time and energy in selecting a test. Then, and only then, create and follow through on a study plan.