SAT or ACT: which test is for you?

A guide to which standardized test you should take


Riley Ruiz, Student Life Editor

Since standardized tests are still a fairly huge part of college acceptances, how does one know which test is right for them? There is the Scholastic Aptitude Test, or the SAT, and the American College Test, or the ACT, and both seem to test knowledge of high school-level reading, writing and math. Neither test is preferred by colleges; however, it is important to choose the option that will give you the best overall score.

Here are the basics of both tests: the SAT is scored on a scale from 400-1600 while the ACT is scored on a scale from 1-36. One of the main differences is that the ACT has one science section, while the SAT does not have any science. Getting a good enough score on either test could allow you to be eligible for a merit-based scholarship. For the most part, both tests are structured relatively the same, as the SAT is a combination of reading, writing and language and math based skills, and the ACT is English, math, reading and science reasoning. Both tests have an optional essay; however, the essay is rarely required by colleges now. The reading section on the SAT has an extra passage and the ACT allows calculators on all math problems. In the math section, both tests cover basic arithmetic, algebra I and II, geometry and trigonometry. Additionally, the SAT includes data and analysis questions, while the ACT does not, and the ACT includes probability and statistic questions, while the SAT does not. 

So since the tests seem so similar, how do you know which test to take? The best way to figure this out is by taking a practice test of both the SAT and ACT and seeing which one you do better on. Since they are scored differently, it is important to look at a conversion chart to see which test you did better on. Practice tests are available on Khan Academy and other online websites, along with prep books that include practice tests that you can purchase on amazon or other bookstores. 

Due to COVID, most colleges have become test-optional; however, taking one never hurts your chances. In other words, not taking a test will make other parts of your college application more important, including your GPA, any awards or achievements earned, extracurriculars you participate in and essays. Consequently, not submitting a score might put you at a disadvantage.

Junior Matthew Clevenger has taken both the SAT and ACT. “I took both the SAT and ACT because I wanted to see which one I liked more and which one I would get better results on,” he said. “Personally, I liked the ACT more because it is way shorter, however, the SAT was way easier. Although I prefer the ACT, if someone did not know which test to take, I would recommend taking the SAT, but both tests have different factors that will be more beneficial to different people. For example, you should take the SAT if science is not a strong subject for you and you need more time to solve math problems. On the contrary, you should take the ACT if you really enjoy science and graphs. I thought the science questions on the ACT were worded weird which made it hard to understand, but it is really just your preferences.”  

“I don’t really feel like it is necessary to take the ACT when less and less schools are requiring it for applications,” said junior Rohan Patel, who has only taken the SAT. “I already studied for the SAT and AP exams so I don’t feel the need to have to study for another test.”

Overall, take the test that fits your preferences and strengths and will give you the best foot forward for college applications. If you still are really struggling to decide which test to take, just take both — it never hurts.