Should I take the ACT or the SAT?

By Drew Sarmiere - September 30, 2019


There are a number of factors to consider when choosing which test, the SAT or the ACT, you should take.  Colleges do not have a preference for one test over the other, so that’s not an issue. Factors to consider:

Does your school offer the SAT or the ACT?  Schools will offer either the ACT or the SAT for free for all juniors during their spring semester.  This might be the reason you choose to take one of the tests over the other; however, unless cost is a major concern there are many other, better factors to consider than this.  FYI - do not take the fact that your school offers one test over the other as an indicator that it’s the better test. That is not the case. Neither test is “better” than the other; they are simply different.  

How quickly can you read and process information?  Processing speed is a measure of how quickly a person can process information and is a relatively set characteristic, at least in the short term.  Importantly, it is not a measure of how “smart” you are. You can be a slower processor and still be very intelligent and vice versa. The ACT and SAT are both timed tests and are not designed with the intent that all students, or even most, will be able to complete the entire test in the time allotted.  This is one of the ways that students are separated from one another in terms of scores. Helping students navigate the tests more efficiently and effectively is, therefore, an important part of test preparation.  The SAT allows significantly more time per question than the ACT, over 25% more time; so, if you are a slower processor (slower reader), then the SAT might prove to be a better test for you.  

Do you consider yourself a math/science student or an English/humanities student?  The ACT covers a broader set of math concepts and also covers some tougher material than the SAT *(namely trigonometry and some statistics).  Additionally, there is a full section of science on the ACT whereas, on the SAT, there are only a few science questions scattered about the test.  Furthermore, the reading level on the SAT tends to be more challenging than ACT. So, if you consider yourself a math/science type of student, you might prefer the ACT.  If you consider yourself an English/humanities type of student, you might prefer the SAT.  

Have you taken both tests?  If so, assuming the tests were taken relatively close together (less than 6 months apart), you can use a concordance chart ( to compare your scores.  If you did better on one of the tests, you might want to consider preparing for and taking that test.  

Are you more comfortable with one test or the other?  If you’ve taken both tests and scored similarly on both, you may have a personal preference for one test vs. another.  Even if you can’t put into words why you feel you prefer one of the tests over the other, that “feeling” can be a good reason to choose that test.  

Do any of the colleges in which you are interested superscore only one of the tests?  If you are applying to a school that superscores one of the tests and not the other, you may want to take the test that will be superscored.  If it’s a major school of interest, you definitely want to take that test.  

Test Prep with Peak Learning Solutions - offices in Cherry Creek, Denver; DTC, Greenwood Village; and Wilmington, NC.  

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