(Note: This post was written before the release of the Redesigned SAT. Class of 2017 students should also read this post with special advice for the first year of the new SAT.)
Nearly all colleges accept both the SAT or the ACT, and neither is favored over the other*. They are very different tests, and ultimately you’ll want to take the one that you’ll score best on. So, how do you figure out which one should you take?
If you search the Internet, you’ll find a plethora of articles describing the differences between these tests in detail. These differences are helpful to consider, especially differences related to specific content and structure of timing. However, many students end up even more confused when trying to account for all the differences. A simpler, more reliable strategy – TAKE BOTH TESTS!
You Don’t Know Until You Try
Honestly, you won’t know which test you’ll perform better on until you’ve taken them both. I recommend that you start by checking out Khan Academy’s Official SAT Practice page and some official sample ACT questions. Then, set aside time to take a full length practice SAT and a full length practice ACT – you’ll need at least 3 hours for each test. To get the most reliable results, treat the practice tests as you would the real thing and observe the time limits for each section. Some students notice a big difference; others perform equally on both tests.
If you’ve taken the practice tests and still aren’t sure which is best for you, go ahead and sign up to take both the SAT and ACT. Then, compare your scores again. Whichever test you performed better on is the one you should study for and take again. Alternatively, you could simply pick the test that you felt more confident and comfortable while taking, as this is the test you likely have potential to perform better on.
Ultimately, what’s most important is that you spend sufficient time preparing for whichever test you select!
Other Factors to Consider
Cost: If you aren’t careful, testing can get expensive. The tests cost about the same – $52.50 for the SAT and $54.50 for ACT with Writing. You’ll also pay again to have scores sent – both tests allow you to send 4 free score reports every time you register, then charge you a fee for each additional score report you need to send – $11.25 for SAT and $12 for ACT. As you can see, this starts to add up! So if cost is a consideration, use the practice tests to make your decision, then only take one test officially.
Also worth noting – when you send your SAT scores to colleges, you pay $11.25 and all scores from all test dates will be included. With ACT however, you pay $12 for EACH test date you want to send. This means that if you take the ACT multiple times, and your high sub-section scores fall across different dates, your score sending costs can add up rather quickly! If the ACT is clearly your stronger test, this shouldn’t be a deterrent though, but rather something to be aware of.
Timing: If you have a busy weekend schedule, it may also be helpful to check the dates that each test is offered. Both take place on different Saturdays throughout the year, and chances are you’ll be able to find dates that work for you. However, I have occasionally seen students who were unable to make any of the dates for one of the tests, so it’s worth checking your calendar ahead of time.
It’s fine to take only one
If time is at a premium for you, and the thought of practice tests and Saturdays at school makes you want to cry, don’t fret – it’s completely fine to take only one test. Spend a little time learning the differences, and then just pick one. It’s far more important that you spend time preparing for the test that you do take, because studying makes a huge difference in scores for most students!
Read my post here if you want to learn how to save money on the SAT!
*When I say “nearly all colleges accept both tests,” I actually mean that all but ONE college accepts both! The Curtis Institute of Music only accepts the SAT, and Cal Poly SLO seems to have a preference for the ACT, but still accepts both tests.