by Maya J '16

ACT vs. SAT: Which one should YOU take?

It’s that time of year again: the temperature has dropped below freezing, we are finally seeing snowfall on the weather forecast… and the dreaded first mentions of the word “SAT” have appeared among juniors. The class of 2016 will be the last grade to take the older SAT before major changes are implemented next Spring. For those who have not already taken the SAT or ACT in October, November or December, the standardized test, in one form or another, is now very much on the horizon for 11th graders.


Although many students consider the SAT the obvious choice for standardized testing, the ACT is also accepted by colleges and universities, and neither test gives an applicant an advantage. Instead, it is important to pick the test that you feel you are better suited to. Since the tests measure different skills, some students feel that one test is better for their way of thinking than the other. While the SAT has infamous vocabulary questions and trickier reasoning, the ACT requires content memorization but is easier to decipher. While the SAT may be better for a student with a long, focused attention span and strong logical reasoning, the ACT’s advanced math and science sections may be better suited to a student strong in these subject areas. Below are some of the important differences between the SAT and the ACT:

Structure Broken up into 10 sections of 25-30 minutes each, alternating between English, Math and Writing Longer sections of English, Math, Reading, Science and Writing, with no alternating sections
Scoring 3 sections scored from 200-800; the composite is scored from 600-2400 Each section is scored from 1-36; the composite is scored from 1-36
Math Algebra, Geometry, Arithmetic, data and probability, formulas provided (calculator allowed) Algebra, Geometry, Arithmetic, data and Probability, Trigonometry, no formulas provided (calculator allowed)
Practice Test PSAT PLAN
Penalties ¼ point is deducted for each wrong choice on multiple choice answers No penalties.
Administration January, March or April, May, June, October, November, December February, April, June, September, October, December
The Most Important Skill Time Management Knowledge
General focus Aptitude Content
Length 3 hours 45 minutes 2 hours 55 minutes (plus 30 minute optional writing portion)

Some students decide to take both tests and use the scores from the one they performed better on. Senior Max Fischman explained his experience with the two tests.

“At first I decided to take the SAT because I had heard more about it and I thought it was the norm. I ended up trying the ACT because my SAT score wasn’t where I wanted it to be and I decided to take a different route.” After he took the ACT, he noticed a “significant difference in the test scores.” He added, “The structure of the ACT better suited me.”

Interestingly enough, Max is not alone. When asked, all the other BSGE Seniors who took both the ACT and SAT agreed that the ACT was more beneficial for them.

Joleyne Herrera, a BSGE senior, commented, “Knowing now that most of my friends who took both the SAT and ACT preferred the ACT, I wish I had given that testing-option a chance. But regardless, standardized testing is not fun.”

Ultimately, picking the SAT over the ACT will not affect your application in the eyes of admission officers. But it does have an effect on how confident you feel about the scores you send in. Like many others who have tried both tests, Max recommends finding the one you like more and sticking with it.

“I don’t think one test is better than the other. At the end of the day it’s whatever test helps you succeed more, so try them both. Finding which one works best for your test-taking skills is the best choice.”


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