Should I Take the ACT or SAT?

Both the College Board and ACT Inc. have revealed redesigns and updates to their exams: the SAT and ACT, respectively. With so many changes to these classic standardized college entrance exams, it might be challenging to decide whether you should take the ACT or SAT (or both!).

Gone from the SAT are obscure vocabulary words and science section, and the ACT’s optional essay now requires more analytical input and a more comprehensive reading test. However, some key differences between the exams remain, and some students’ skills will align more closely with those tested on the SAT, while others’ skills will match better with the ACT.

You may be asking yourself, ‘Should I take the ACT or SAT?’ Choosing to take the ACT or SAT can depend on many factors, such as what types of subjects you excel at and if you are adept to retaining information while reading. Putting your focus on mastering one of the two tests can help maximize your chances of getting a high score.

Should you take the ACT or SAT? Read on to find out.

Should you take the ACT? Perhaps if you enjoy science.

There is no science section on the new SAT. The ACT has a science section, one that is highly focused on your ability to interpret graphs and data. A strong understanding of science is not necessarily required, so long as you are able to do two things:

  • perform basic math

  • analyze tables and figures

[RELATED: How to Create an ACT Prep Plan]

However, science questions of any type—graph-based or otherwise—are more appealing to some students than others. If you are one of these students, you might prefer the ACT to the SAT. The opposite is also true: if you are easily intimidated by huge amounts of scientific data, you might want to take the SAT instead of the ACT.

Should you take the SAT? Perhaps if you like math.

The ACT still allows students to use a calculator on all math questions. While the SAT allows a calculator for some math questions, it now also includes fill-in-the-blank questions and other problems that require written work that must be completed without the aid of a calculator.

[RELATED: How to Create an SAT Prep Plan]

Students who excel in math and can typically perform problems quickly without a calculator might do best taking the SAT. Conversely, students who are not as strong in math compared to other subjects, or students who are intimidated by math problems that don’t allow calculator use, might want to opt for the ACT.

Should you take the ACT? Perhaps if you excel in reading.

Reading questions on the new SAT will almost always provide you with the line numbers in which you can find the information you need to answer them. And even in cases where the line number isn’t provided, it’s relatively easy to find the information you need because the questions progress in order with the passages you’ve read.

On the ACT, however, reading questions are ordered randomly and usually do not provide line numbers with relevant details. So, it can be challenging to find details in the passage that correspond with the question.

If you excel at naturally retaining information as you read, you may do quite well on the ACT. If you have trouble with remembering the information you read or going back into written passages to find details, you’ll probably prefer taking the SAT.

Should you take the ACT or SAT? Consider the colleges to which you’re applying.

Don’t forget this important piece! If you’re a high school student thinking about these exams, you’re probably thinking about the college application process as well. Go through your short list of schools and do a little research. Which ones accept only the ACT or only the SAT as part of the admissions process? Do any of them accept both tests? Make sure you understand the admissions requirements of your prospective colleges before making any big decisions about the ACT or SAT. The answer could be right in front of you when browsing a college’s website!

With their latest rounds of changes, the SAT and ACT have a lot of new material to consider. However, key content differences between the exams remain, and some students may prefer one to the other. By identifying your strengths and weaknesses and understanding what your prospective colleges require, you can choose to focus on studying for the test that’s most closely aligned with your skills and goals.

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