ACT v.s. SAT

As we continue through the midst of standardized testing season, an important decision arises as we try to determine which of our two options is best for us.

Today, colleges accept the ACT and the SAT, often without preference, as a means of measuring a student’s cognitive ability in comparison to the rest of the application pool. Therefore, the decision to focus on one test rather the other, comes down largely to personal preference and style.
The two tests share a similar basis in that they each test reading comprehension, grammar, and math skills. The ACT does have an additional science section, however it is almost entirely simply reading comprehension within the context of scientific graphs, data, charts, and experiments. It is also worth knowing that the SAT has a longer reading comprehension section than the ACT, and its additional length includes several science-based passages and data much like the ACT science section. The grammar sections in both tests are nearly identical, so it is not hard to transition between tests in that regard. The tests do divulge on slightly different paths when it comes to the math sections, however, the ACT comprises a single 60 multiple choice question section, all with a calculator, while the SAT divides it into a shorter 20-question non-calculator section, along with a 38-question section with a calculator. It is important to note that not all of the math questions on the SAT are multiple choice, some are what is known as “grid-in”. Essentially the questions are short response and require you to physically grid-in your numerical answer on the answer sheet. Also, both tests have an optional essay; the ACT offering an argument-based essay and the SAT resembling more of a rhetorical analysis essay.
So how do you know which test is best for you? First, it is helpful to take a full-length practice test from start to finish of each test and see which you do better on or to find the overall test structure you prefer. In general, it is recognized that the ACT is a more time-pressured test, so “if you have better time management skills” it is recommended that “the ACT is a better test to take” (Chris Adams, Junior). Additionally, if you enjoy science-based analysis questions, the ACT might be a better fit, as it has a separate section devoted to it. The ACT tends to also be more straightforward than the SAT, however the concepts being tested may be slightly more challenging. Contrastingly, the SAT may appear to be wordier and confusing, but the core concepts may be slightly simpler if you can filter through it.
Regardless of which test you take, the basic concepts are similar so it is important to adequately prepare for whichever exam you take to give yourself the best chance at doing well.