SAT vs. ACT: How to Choose Your Best Test

The Applerouth Team
July 12, 2022
min read

One of the earliest forks on your student’s road to college admissions is choosing between the SAT and the ACT. Though both tests serve a similar purpose (and sound the same if you say them five times fast), deciding which to take is a crucial step in the test prep process to ensure that your student is showcasing their academic potential in the best light possible.

We know this decision is confusing for a lot of students and their parents. How to choose between the SAT and ACT is probably one of the most common questions we get asked! When we surveyed rising juniors in our newsletter last month, we learned less than half know which test they’ll focus on this year. This article is designed to bring some clarity to these murky waters.

The Single Best Way to Choose Between the SAT and ACT

It’s important to note that both tests are viewed as equivalent in college admissions offices across the country today. Gone are the days of certain schools or regions having a preference of applicants taking one test over the other, meaning that a student’s college list need not impact whether they should take the SAT or the ACT.

Instead, the best way for students to choose their college admissions test is to try a full-length, proctored practice test of each and compare the results. Typically, one score will be higher, or one test will present an easier road to improvement than the other.

What to Do Once You’ve Decided

After making an informed decision, students should stick with one test–either the SAT or the ACT–all the way through, leaving the other behind in the dust, to maximize their score increase potential. (Of course, there are some exceptions where students can and do switch, but most students who do their homework upfront and make an informed decision, can confidently proceed with just one test without having to ever think about the other again.)

SAT vs. ACT 101: The Basic Differences Between the Tests

At a glance the SAT and the ACT appear nearly identical but, upon a closer look, multiple differences in their content, presentation, and scoring can impact which is the stronger choice for your student. (For a visual summary of the differences, check out our SAT vs. ACT infographic here.)

One of the most apparent differences between the tests is the ACT’s Science section, which accounts for a quarter of a student’s composite ACT score. The SAT, on the other hand, does not have a Science section at all. After completing practice tests, some students are surprised to find that the ACT Science section mainly tests students’ comprehension of data and trends in charts, graphs, and tables as opposed to rote knowledge of biology, physics, and/or chemistry. Students who are strong at reasoning and interpreting trends from data may excel at this section on the ACT.

Another major difference between the SAT and the ACT lies within their respective Math sections. On the SAT, Math questions tend to focus more on real-world applications of algebra concepts, while the ACT Math section is more geometry-heavy. Additionally, the SAT contains two separate Math sections–one that allows the use of a calculator, and one no-calculator section–while the ACT only contains one Math section on which calculators are permitted. This means that Math counts for 50% of a student’s total composite SAT score and only 25% of a student’s composite ACT score. Both the content and scoring of the Math sections may impact whether a student’s abilities shine more on the SAT versus the ACT.

Finally, the two tests have very different pacing from one another. The SAT allows students more time per question, while the ACT requires students to work more quickly in order to complete each section. Generally, students who thrive in a fast-paced setting may excel at the ACT, and students who prefer to have more time to settle on answers may lean toward the SAT.

Start on the Right Foot with Practice Tests

Though understanding the major differences between the two tests can certainly provide a rough idea of whether a student might perform better on the SAT or the ACT for college admissions, ultimately, the best way to make this decision is to have students sit for 1 full-length, proctored practice test of each and then compare baseline scores. This month, students can join us for FREE practice tests and strategy sessions during July Jumpstart. Grab your spot today and you’ll be one step closer to choosing the right test for your student.

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