SAT vs. ACT: Which Test is Best for You

Conor is a 16- year-old from NewYork City, NY. He enjoys playing guitar, watching movies, and his favorite subject is philosophy because it helps him make sense of things and allows for him to view the world differently.

            The SAT reasoning test has always been a fundamental part in the college admissions process ever since its first debut in 1901. The test underwent great changes since then and today incorporates 10 sections of Critical Reading, Math, and Writing questions, totaling a time of 3 hours and 45 minutes and scored on a range from 600-2400 points. Recently however, colleges have begun unanimously accepting another form of reasoning exam; the ACT.

The ACT, first administered in November, 1959, incorporates Math, Reading, English, and Science Reasoning with a length 20 minutes shorter than the SAT. After the Writing section was included on the ACT in February 2005, colleges began accepting the ACT as a substitute for the SAT. Today, ACT scores are even preferred in western schools.

Along with GPA and extracurricular activities, reasoning exams like the SAT and ACT are vital to the college admissions process. Knowing the key differences in the tests will help you decide which test best fits your academic preferences and ultimately lead to a better grade. So now let’s take a look at which test is best for you:

  • While the essay for the SAT is mandatory, the ACT doesn’t require an essay section. Therefore, if you’re a weak writer, definitely take the ACT.
  • The SAT has 140 questions along with an essay and is 3 hours and 45 minutes long while the ACT has 215 questions (essay is optional) and is 3 hours and 25 minutes long. This means that you have less time to do each question on the ACT than on the SAT so if you’re not a fast paced test taker, the SAT may be the test for you. However, this topic of slow test taking is important to bring up because you can also apply for extra test time in both exams. If you have any performance/learning/testing disabilities that have been acknowledged by your high school, you can very well be granted extra testing time by the College Board.
  • Both tests place emphasis on grammar, however, the SAT stresses knowledge of vocabulary while the ACT stresses punctuation and syntax. If you have good grammatical skills but you lack vocabulary, the ACT would certainly be the test to take.
  • The ACT has Math sections with trigonometry while the SAT has no trigonometry. Therefore if trig isn’t one of your strong points, I recommend the SAT.
  • The ACT has a Science section while the SAT does not. However, don’t let this worry you. This section mostly deals with comprehension of graphs and hypotheses rather than knowledge of biology, chemistry, or earth science. The Science section is similar to that of the Reading Comprehension section so if that is a strong area for you, definitely pursue the ACT.
  • The SAT has a guessing penalty rule that allows students to leave out answers that they are fully unsure of rather than guess and get it wrong (-1 point per wrong answer, 0 per omitted answer) while the ACT does not. While some people might feel stressed by this pressure of whether or not to omit an answer, others may find that this penalty allows for a more systematic way of getting through the test (omitting answers they are unsure of allows more time to spend on other questions they can figure out).
  • Passage reading plays a major role in both tests. If you’re not a fast reader you should choose the SAT due to less time constraints than the ACT.


Personally, I recommend taking a practice SAT and ACT and then deciding which one to take based on your grade and comfort level. Look into which test your favorite colleges prefer. And whichever one you choose it’s up to you to take the necessary time taking practice exams and pacing yourself so that you can shine on test day.

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3 Responses to “SAT vs. ACT: Which Test is Best for You”

  1. Christopher O'Riley
    July 20, 2011 at 2:29 pm #

    nice article, Conor

  2. Christopher O'Riley
    July 20, 2011 at 2:30 pm #

    nice article, Conor

  3. Ceci Sommers
    July 20, 2011 at 9:44 pm #

    Good work Conor…today Radical Parenting, Tomorrow The New York Times!!! 

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