Gaining acceptance into a competitive college requires high SAT or ACT test scores. Many students express a need to take both exams, believing this will increase their odds of acceptance. In reality, most colleges and universities do not prefer one standardized test to another. Obtaining two high-test scores is almost irrelevant to college admission offices since both tests hold identical weight. So instead of dedicating countless hours to studying for both tests, educators advise students to evaluate their strengths and focus all their attention on selecting the right test to highlight their strong subjects.

While the SAT and ACT are largely similar, a few key differences exist that can help students decide which test they should focus their efforts on. So, which standardized test should students take? The following questions will help test takers gauge the best test to match their academic strengths and formatting preferences.

1. Do You Work Well Under Time Constraints?

A major difference between the ACT and SAT is the duration of the tests. While both tests run for relatively the same length of time, the ACT offers a different formatting for answers and questions; thus, students will need to answer each question at a faster pace. Educators believe students who typically finish exams early will likely excel at a faster pace, and should opt for the ACT. Maintaining focus and working quickly is a skill, which provides students with an edge on the time-intensive ACT. Meanwhile, students feeling challenged by the pressure of time constraints will likely perform better on the SAT.

2. Is Science Your Strong Subject?

While the SAT does not include a science section, the ACT does. This is a determining factor that often sways students towards one test or the other. If a student excels in science (including graph and data interpretation), they should consider taking the ACT. Alternately, if students feel science is not a strong suit of theirs, they may circumvent their weakness by opting to take the SAT.

3. Which Essay Style Do You Prefer?

Both the SAT and ACT offer optional essay sections; however each test formats this section differently. Students with more advanced writing skills, and can articulate personal experiences easily may prefer the ACT’s essay style. The ACT requires students to brainstorm and support their own argument while the SAT asks students to evaluate the argument from a given passage. For individuals looking for a familiar essay style, the SAT closely resembles an academic essay.

4. Will You Need To Use A Calculator?

The SAT currently contains two mathematics sections – one that allows calculator use and one that does not. In comparison, the ACT allows calculators for the entire test.

On both the ACT and SAT, students may find they can solve some questions significantly faster without a calculator. Regardless, academic advisors still recommend that students complete math questions without a calculator. While calculators are an excellent tool to ensure answers are accurate and assist in performing basic operations such as graphing, students may find they can solve questions quicker without them. Many students report a fear of losing the safety net that the calculator offers, and opt for the ACT.

5. How Well Can You Interpret Literature?

SAT Test Help

While both exams require passage interpretation, the ACT exclusively uses contemporary pieces while the SAT pulls excerpts from various time periods. The early writing style, such as pre-1920’s literature or early modern, typically contains metaphors, imagery, and ancient language. For students not versed in literature, this does not bode well and can negatively impact their test, taking more time to interpret the passage. Academic counselors believe students who are easily challenged, may feel more comfortable taking the ACT exam.

Final Tips to Help Make Your Decision


There are many resources that parents and students can review to help narrow their decision such as exploring prep books at a school or a local library and obtaining free practice test copies online. But perhaps the best test prep is spending adequate time considering each test in detail including the format, example questions, and rules. Furthermore, try to locate a mock test led by a proctor from an accredited tutoring center. To ensure success start test prep early to increase chances of earning a competitive score on either standardized tests, contact a top-tutoring center near you today.