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ACT vs. SAT: Which One Should You Take?

As junior year approaches, the dreadful college entrance exam becomes an over-bearing concern. You begin to worry because one of your friends has already registered for the SAT in September and another for the ACT in October, and you have yet to even consider which one you want to take. They both seem pretty equal in length, question format and overall content. So, how do you decide which one you should take, if not both?

The SAT has always been more popular in the past but the ACT is on the rise. Students are realizing that the ACT has some advantages over the SAT for certain types of test-takers. Despite the ACT’s growing popularity, the SAT is still the top choice for students applying to some of the top schools in the nation, such as: Cornell (88% SATs submitted), Harvard (90%), MIT (89%), Yale (85%) and Princeton (91%).

Although the SAT still seems to dominate in preference (at least for the top schools), this does not mean you should blindly commit to the SAT and disregard the ACT all together. The ACT is becoming more nationally accepted for legitimate reasons. There are many minor differences between the two exams, but the two most important to consider when choosing one are: the style of the questions and the length of the individual sections.

The ACT is a content-based test and the SAT is a reasoning test. The questions on the ACT are more straightforward and easier to comprehend, whereas the SAT’s questions can cause some confusion about what they are asking. At first, the ACT might sound like the clear winner here but there is a catch. The ACT requires a broader range of knowledge and overall content. The SAT’s trickier style of questions actually allows students to logically reason their way to the answer. On the ACT, if you don’t know what a word means or how to solve a math problem, you just have to make your best educated guess or leave it blank.

One characteristic of both of the exams that many people overlook is the length of the individual sections. The SAT consists of 10 separate sections, each lasting from a range of 10 to 25 minutes. This is a better format for students who like switching between subjects and having multiple short breaks throughout the exam. The ACT has four sections, with an optional writing section. The sections range in length from 30 to 60 minutes. Students who prefer knocking one whole subject out at a time and don’t mind the lengthy, uninterrupted breaks should take the ACT.

The best way to decide which test you should take is to take a practice version of each test under the same conditions as you would face on your test date. Choose whichever one you felt more comfortable taking, focus all of your studying efforts on that exam and forget about the other one entirely. Do not take both! The exams are structured for different types of test-takers so establish a preference and stick to it.

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