SAT vs. ACT: Which One Should You Take?
When it comes to college applications, choosing the right standardized exam to take can be critical. Nearly all universities accept either the SAT or ACT and claim not to prefer one exam over the other. So what’s the difference, and which one should you take?
It all depends on your strengths, weaknesses, and preferences.
Exam Structure and Timing
The SAT and ACT are standardized exams designed to measure your readiness for college-level coursework and proficiency in essential subject areas like math and English. In 2018, more than 2.1 million students took the SAT and 1.9 million took the ACT.
The SAT and ACT are structured similarly. Both tests take around 3 hours from start to finish, with short breaks in between sections. Both are comprised of reading, grammar/writing, and math sections as well as an optional essay at the end.
Here is a general breakdown comparing the structure of the admissions tests:
SAT and ACT: Understanding Each Section
We will review each section in detail below.
This section primarily focuses on reading comprehension of various text types. Common questions will ask you to identify the main idea of a text, determine the meaning of a word in context, or select lines from the text that support a claim. You may also be asked to interpret data from a chart, table, or graph associated with a passage.
[table id=15 /]
Writing and Language/English
This section focuses on grammar, vocabulary, sentence/paragraph structure, and organization. Typical questions will ask you to choose replacements for a particular word, rearrange words and phrases that are out of place, and either add or eliminate punctuation in certain places.
[table id=16 /]
This section focuses on problem solving and graphical analysis, within the scope of high-school level algebra 1/2, geometry/trigonometry, and statistics/probability.
Both the SAT and ACT offer an optional essay. The nature of the essay prompts between the two exams, however, are very different in nature.
SAT and ACT Scoring
On both tests, your raw score (based on number of correct answers) is converted to a scaled score, ranging from 1-36 on the ACT and from 400-1600 on the SAT.
Although most colleges don’t claim to have specific score cutoffs or requirements, you should aim to score 34+ on the ACT or 1500+ on the SAT to be competitive for Ivy League schools and other top universities.
If you’ve taken both an SAT or ACT test, you may be wondering which score is “better.” Although there is no exact formula for equating SAT and ACT test results, we’ve created a conversion table between the two exams to help you interpret your score and decide which test to take or which score to submit to colleges.
SAT/ACT Score Conversion Table
2021 Test Dates
The SAT and ACT are administered only on certain dates throughout the year. Below are the official test dates announced so far.
Which One is Right For You?
Now that you know all about the SAT and ACT, it’s time to choose which one is right for you.
Let’s start by considering some major differences between the two exams to determine which better suits your strengths and preferences.
Are you strong in science?
The ACT includes a science section, which the SAT does not. Although this section is a test of reasoning rather than knowledge and anyone can potentially achieve a high score, students with a strong background in chemistry, biology, or physics may be at a natural advantage.
How quick and accurate are you?
The ACT allows for less time per question than the SAT does. That said, ACT questions are generally considered easier and more “surface-level” than those of the SAT. So you choice is essentially a decision between prioritizing speed and analysis.
Think about your test-taking habits in school. If you typically breeze through the easy questions and struggle with the few most difficult problems, the ACT may be more suitable for you. If you work slowly but feel like you can answer any question correctly when given enough time, consider the SAT a better option.
What type of writing are you stronger in?
The SAT essay is an objective literary analysis, whereas the ACT essay essentially asks for your opinion. Ask yourself if you’d rather write an evidence-based expository essay or an opinion-based persuasive essay? Do you consider yourself deeply passionate about issues relating to the social sciences? Or would you prefer to simply analyze the literary text without presenting an opinion on its subject matter.
Here’s what you can do next:
Still don’t know which test is right for you?
If you want to 100% be confident in your decision, the best method is to take a full-length practice test for both the SAT and ACT.
MEK is hosting test events, both virtually and on-site, all throughout January, February, and March! This comes with our free signature score report. By comparing a detailed performance analysis for both tests, you can confirm your strengths and preferences before making your final choice.
Decided on the SAT or ACT, but still need help with prep?
Earn high scores with the guidance of our expert teachers! Sign up today for our SAT prep classes! Courses are tailored to the student’s current score range so they can reach higher scores until they get to their target score.
In the end, just remember that you can succeed on whichever test you take as long as you develop a solid study plan and put in the effort!