Which one should you take?
It doesn’t really matter, just pick one and prepare for it!
All four-year colleges and universities in the U.S. accept both the SAT and the ACT as a qualification for admission. In the high school graduating class of 2018 nationwide, 1.9 million students took the SAT while 2.1 million took the ACT (details and more).
The biggest differences between the two tests are within the math segments. The SAT does not permit a calculator on one segment of the test and includes open response questions (grid-ins). The ACT includes more geometry and trig; the question types are more straightforward but also more diverse.
Just like deciding between vanilla or chocolate, the best approach is to try one of each and then make an informed decision. Once you decide which test to take, effectively prepare for that test as preparation to take the one test will not be the same as preparation to take the other.
We suggest that students take a math-only SAT and ACT practice test to clarify their preference. We will grade and provide a summary comparison to help your student gauge their preference and performance.
You need to know the following: College applications are about COMPARISON, and not about absolute value. You’re not evaluated based on how good you are – you’re judged on how good you are compared to all the other applicants. These tests are graded on a curve. Your performance is scaled, and your final score is based on how you did compared to everyone else.
This means that you should take the test that gives you the biggest competitive edge. To some, the SAT might be “easier,” but it’s easier for everyone who takes it. For others, the ACT might be “harder,” but it’s also just as hard for all the students who are taking it alongside you. The scale will come into play – if you can use that scale to your advantage, you’ll end up with the best college application possible.
The short version: if you’re awesome at fast-paced assignments and can stay focused for long periods of time, you have a huge competitive edge on the ACT. You can use those skills to blow the other students taking the ACT out of the water.
If you’re not so good at fast-paced assignments (if you prefer to take your time and think things through, or if you usually don’t finish your tests in school), the ACT will be a total nightmare. You should probably take the SAT instead.