Which standardized exam should I choose? Is the SAT a better test for me than the ACT?
While the ACT exam has become more popular in recent years, and more and more schools are starting to accept it, the SAT exam is still the test of choice for most colleges and universities outside the Midwest.
So what’s the difference between the two exams?
The short answer is that the SAT tests how you think, while the ACT tests what you know. (There’s a reason why the SAT used to be called the “Scholastic Aptitude Test”.) On several SAT math problems, for instance, you’ll be able to find the right answer just by plugging the answer choices back into the equation.
In general, SAT test preparation can be much easier than ACT preparation. The ACT test requires a command of more advanced math, like trigonometry, and includes no singularly dedicated vocabulary section. If you have a killer vocabulary, the SAT gives you an opportunity to show off your vocab as well as a clear way to study for this section. The SAT exam also rewards good test taking strategy more than the ACT does, and if you take the time to learn the strategies that underlie each section of the SAT, you’re likely to see your score improve. Finally, you’re more likely to get extra time on the SAT. It’s extremely difficult to get extra time on the ACT exam.
If you’re a strong writer, you may want to stick with the SAT exam. Writing an essay for the ACT exam is optional (although most selective schools require it) and it’s scored independently of the rest of the test. The SAT’s essay is required and counts as part of your Writing score. A strong essay can raise your score as much as 100 points!
Despite all the potential advantages of taking the SAT, however, there are still several good reasons to take the ACT instead. The ACT doesn’t count off for incorrect answers, and it’s shorter and more straightforward than the SAT exam is. If you’re a bright, hard-working student, but you have trouble taking standardized tests, the ACT exam may be a good match for you.
If you’re still not sure which test is the best fit, one way to find out for sure is to try both exams. CATES offers free practice SAT and ACT tests throughout the year.