May 01, 2019

Do Certain Schools Prefer the ACT/SAT?

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In years past, some schools on the East and West Coasts, especially Ivy League universities, preferred the SAT, while Midwestern schools favored the ACT.  Today, however, most schools that require standardized test scores will accept either the ACT or the SAT.  In this article, we'll look at how the two tests compare and provide a few pointers to help you decide which one you should take.

How ACT and SAT Compare

Both the SAT and ACT measure college readiness, but they emphasize different skill sets.  For example, in the SAT, although students are permitted to use calculators on some of the math questions, the test-takers must find the answer to others by working out the problems in their heads or by using pencil and paper.  In contrast, the ACT allows students to use a calculator throughout the math section.

You may be wondering how to compare scores on the tests:  for example, if you get a 26 on the ACT, what is the equivalent SAT score?  A concordance table can help you determine what you're likely to score on one exam based on your score on the other.

College Board and the ACT came up with three concordance tables to help you compare your scores: ACT composite to SAT total, math ACT to math SAT, and ACT English and Reading to SAT Evidence-Based Reading and Writing.  Because an ACT score is calculated on a 36-point scale compared to a 1600-point scale for the SAT, an ACT score is usually converted to a range of SAT scores.  Let's look at some examples.

A 26 on the ACT is equivalent to an SAT score between 1230 and 1250.  A 32 on the ACT translates to an SAT score between 1420 and 1440.  An ACT math score of 18 is equivalent to an SAT math score between 490 and 500.  An English and Reading ACT score of 72 is about the same as an 800 on the SAT's Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section.  Equivalent scores may vary from year to year, so whenever comparing scores, be sure to use the current official concordance tables available at College Board and ACT.

Should You Take the ACT or SAT?

Each test requires a different strategy, so the best way for you to know which one to take is to look at sample ACT and SAT tests.  Familiarizing yourself with the types of material covered on each and taking practice tests will give you a good idea of how well you will score on each exam.  Some students even opt to take both to see how their scores compare.

Flexible, Online Test Prep

Whichever test you decide to take, the key is to give yourself plenty of time to prepare so that you're ready to do your best and can submit scores in a timely manner when you apply to college.  UWorld offers online test prep that allows for flexible, in-depth study.  Ready to get to work?  Check out our college prep website to learn more.


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