Out there, spinning their webs on websites, there’s a great number of people with different opinions on whether you should take the SAT or the ACT. At the end of the day, however, the choice is yours to make. Like ice creams of different flavors, these standardized tests have both similarities and differences. If colleges to which you’re applying have preferences for one test over the other, that’s a consideration, but you also want to take the test on which you believe you can best perform. In making that assessment, consider the following:
1) The basic formats of the two tests are different, with the SAT breaking up its three content areas (Critical Reading, Math, and Writing) into ten sections, which you jump back and forth between. The ACT, on the other hand, asks you to complete each of its four content areas (English, Math, Reading, and Science) in one go. The SAT also has a required writing section, while the ACT offers an optional writing test (which may not be as optional as it seems, since many colleges want you to take it)!
2) In scrutinizing the above-listed content areas, you may have noticed that the ACT has a science section. The SAT does not. In general, the ACT has a reputation for testing more on materials that you have come across in your high school classes, while the SAT is more interested in how you apply that knowledge. ACT questions are more straightforward, while SAT questions are more abstract.
3) Along these lines, while the ACT tests more advanced concepts in mathematics, the questions themselves are (you guessed it) more straightforward than those on the SAT. Keep in mind also that math accounts for 1/3rd of your SAT score and 1/4th of your ACT score…you do the math!
4) While the ACT is more reading intensive, the SAT loves vocabulary, and not necessarily the type that you’d use in your daily life – be prepared to tackle words like “deleterious”, “florid”, “ostentatious”, “perfidious”, and “surreptitious”.
5) Finally, the tests are scored differently. Randomly guessing answers to multiple choice questions can harm you on the SAT, since points are deducted for incorrect responses, but you aren’t penalized for a wrong answer on the ACT, so you’ll be advised to fill in all those lovely, little ovals, regardless of whether you know the correct answer or not.
Keeping the above points in mind, I recommend that you take some SAT and ACT practice tests (you can access free practice tests through companies like The Princeton Review and Kaplan) and compare your scores on each. From there, you’ll be able to make an informed decision!