How do you decide which test is the right college admissions test for you? With most colleges using test results to determine admissions and merit scholarships, test performance is a critical component of the college application process. 

While the PSAT and Pre-ACT are both good indicators of how a student will do on the test, it is rare that schools offer both preliminary exams.  Students and parents are left on their own to find the test that is the best fit.

Although the SAT has been around longer, both tests are equally accepted by all colleges in the United States.  So what exactly is the difference between the SAT and the ACT?  

The SAT has sections in reading, writing/language, and math.  The ACT has sections in English, reading, math, and science reasoning.  The ACT science section comprises one fourth of the total score–for those who love science, this may be the test for you! 

The math section of each test varies slightly with each evaluating skills in basic math, algebra I, algebra II, geometry, and trigonometry.  The ACT also assesses probability and statistics while the SAT includes data analysis questions. Calculators can be used for all math sections on the ACT but only for selected sections of the SAT.  Math formulas are provided on the SAT, as opposed to the ACT requiring that formulas be memorized in preparation for the test.

The ACT  is 2 hours and 55 minutes in length with the SAT taking 3 hours.  Completing the optional essay adds an additional 40 minutes to the ACT and 50 minutes to the SAT.  Surprisingly, the SAT has fewer questions than the ACT.  The questions on the SAT are more analytical, requiring students to use reasoning skills.  If you are a test taker who works more methodically or worries about time constraints, you may prefer the SAT.  Fast paced and gauging a student’s knowledge base, the ACT measures how quickly a student can demonstrate what they know.

You may find yourself leaning more toward one test than the other–the best way to determine which test is right for you is to take a full length practice test of the SAT and the ACT.  Once you have scored your tests, use the concordance table to determine on which test you will score the highest.   It may seem time consuming to do this, but when you consider the time and cost it requires to take each official test, you can start to see the value in taking the unofficial tests first.

Once you have decided which test to take, your next decision is when to take the test.  Both the ACT and SAT are designed to be taken during the second half of junior year. Students will have multiple opportunities to take either test before the fall of their senior year.  

New for 2020, the ACT now offers superscoring which previously was only offered for the SAT.  This means students can select their highest test scores from sections of the test taken on different test dates to compile the ultimum test score.  Please refer to college websites regarding their policy on superscoring. Beginning September 2020, students can retest in single sections of the ACT.  For example, a student can opt to retake only the science portion of the ACT–this is not available for the SAT.  

To write or not to write?  Most colleges do not use the writing portion of the ACT or SAT when evaluating college applications.  If you are not quite sure where you will apply when you take the test, then plan on doing the writing section at least once.  As the saying goes, it is better to have it and not need it then to scramble to try and take it before your college application due date.  

Regardless of which test you take, invest time in preparing.  Taking advantage of free test prep resources such as Khan Academy and ACT Academy  can help increase your score as well as help you feel more confident on the test day.  Happy test taking!

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