SAT Vs. ACT: Which One is Right for You?

A common question that students face is whether to take the SAT or the ACT. Both tests seem very similar to each other, but there are differences between them to take into account. These are the steps to determining which test a student should study for.

As you can see above, one of the key differences between the ACT and the SAT is the science section in the former and the lack of it in the latter. The science section absolutely does not test your knowledge of the sciences, meaning that it won’t ask you to label the bones in an arm or describe the correct sequence for mitosis. What it actually tests you on is your ability to make sense of data and information. Are you able to understand how a study is set up? Are you able to identify variables and correlations, and then use this understanding to answer questions about relationships between different variables? If anything, the science section of the ACT tests your critical thinking and reasoning abilities, as do any of the other parts of the tests. Students who are logical and able to quickly understand information, graphs and variables may do well here. The math needed in the sciences section is minimal; numbers-based questions will often point you to an equation given to you in the passage, or for simple operations. 

Additionally, the ACT tests speed more than the SAT does. There are many more questions for the amount of time that you have, meaning that in order to succeed on the ACT, you must be able to move mechanically and methodically through the test. People who usually do well on the ACT are not necessarily strong readers; in fact, the reading level for the ACT is lower than that of the SAT, meaning that the text and questions are somewhat easier as well. Something else to keep in mind when thinking about the reading sections is that the SAT will have historical documents that give a lot of students grief due to the antiquated language that these passages use. Though there is a way to train to read these types of passages, it is difficult and puts a lot of students off. 

Lastly, a major difference in the tests is in the essays. The SAT and ACT essays are completely different; if you write for one like you would the other, you will fail one of them. The SAT essay will ask you to analyze the effectiveness of an article or speech in conveying a specific point. To do this, you must point out rhetorical strategies that the author or speaker uses, and analyze how these strategies or devices help the person make his or her point. However, in the ACT, you must write an argumentative essay about a given topic and the perspectives presented in it. If a student prefers analysis, the SAT essay will seem more attractive. If a student prefers argumentation, the ACT essay will seem like the better choice. 

However, what you’re good at does not always translate into what you like. For example, a student may hate writing analysis essays and like argumentative essays more, but be better at analysis compared to argumentation. This is why we suggest that you take a diagnostic test for both; even if you dislike one test more than the other, seeing how you may perform better on it may help you make your decision. This is not to say to just blindly choose whichever you perform better on the first time, however; depending on your weaknesses and strengths, you may find it easier to improve on one test over the other. Remember that the diagnostic is just a starting point; it’s fully possible to raise your score.

While standardized testing may seem daunting, it doesn’t have to be. The key to studying for the SAT, ACT, and any other standardized test is simply commitment. If you don’t commit to it, you won’t improve as much as you would like. Set schedules, figure out where your weaknesses and strengths are, and practice. If you hit a plateau, reevaluate how you’re studying. Are you focusing on the wrong things? Are you brushing off mistakes?

In the end, standardized testing is only a part of your application. However, your score can make a huge difference in influencing how your application is received by your choice schools. Just do the best you can, and let everything fall in from there.