is it better to take the ACT or the SAT?

Posted : September 2, 2001
Last Updated : November 18, 2013

is it better to take the ACT or the SAT?

"Should I take the SAT or the ACT?" This is a common dilemma for many high school students. The easy answer to this question is to talk to an admissions officer at your college or university of choice and see if the school has a preference. Here are some other pointers.

  • You can (if you are able to) take both exams. The two exams differ from each other in certain areas, and you may do better on one rather than the other. The ACT is an achievement test, measuring what you have learned in school. The SAT is more of an aptitude test, testing reasoning and verbal abilities.
  • ACT questions tend to be more straightforward. On the SAT, you may need to spend time figuring out what you're being asked before you can start solving the problem.
  • The SAT has a stronger emphasis on vocabulary than the ACT.
  • The ACT math section includes trigonometry.
  • The SAT has a guessing penalty; the ACT does not.
  • The essay on the ACT is optional, although many colleges require it. On the SAT, the essay is required.
  • Most schools do not have an ACT or SAT preference or one that they would require over the other.
  • Many Ivy League schools want students to take the SAT.
  • Some colleges require a student to take SAT Subject Tests for placement into college courses or for college admission.
  • Ask the colleges that you are applying to if they will combine scores from different administrations to come up with a highest possible composite. For example, some schools will take your highest math score from one SAT and combine it with your highest verbal score from another SAT to come up with the highest possible composite. Keep in mind that not all universities will do this.
  • Please remember that all students have a "ceiling" when they take these exams. No matter how many times you take the SAT and/or ACT, there will be a score that you may not be able to go above.
  • As difficult as these exams are for some students, they are a part of the admissions process at almost every school. Different colleges and universities put different weight on this importance, but it still exists.

Try to take the ACT and/or SAT at least once during your junior year of high school and plan to take another one in the fall of your senior year. For more information about these college admissions tests, read The Low-Down on College Admissions Tests.

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