December 19, 2018

Should I Take the ACT or SAT?


In 2018, this question was answered by approximately 4 million students.  Out of that 4 million, 1.9 million took the ACT, and 2.1 million took the SAT; about 40% of students took both.

Will taking one test rather than the other influence my ability to get into a school?

No, all universities and colleges in the United States, regardless of location, ranking, or departments, accept BOTH ACT and SAT scores.

What factors influence my ability to get into a school?

While many factors influence your chances, having a high ACT or SAT score will dramatically improve your odds of being accepted to your dream school. For reference, the average score was 20.8 on the ACT and 1060 on the SAT in 2018. Your decision on which test to use for your college applications should be based on how well you do on the test you choose.

What are the major differences between the tests?



  • 4 subjects:  English, math, reading, and science
  • Each section is worth 25% of your total score
  • A calculator can be used throughout the math section
  • Less time per question (36-60 seconds per question)
  • Relies more on skimming passages for information
  • 3 subjects:  math, reading, writing, and language (no science)
  • Math is worth 50% of your total score since there are two math sections
  • Calculators cannot be used on one of the math sections
  • More time per question (47-86 seconds per question)
  • Requires closer reading for comprehension of the passage


How do these differences influence my decision?

The decision of which test to take should be guided by your strengths and weaknesses.  

Let’s look at a couple of example scenarios:

Scenario 1:  You read a little slowly but are really good at math.        

  • The SAT is 50% math and allows more time per question, so I suggest taking the SAT.  Even though the questions on the ACT are more straightforward, its more rapid pace may make you feel rushed.

Scenario 2:  Although science worries you, you really dread math.

    Being able to use a calculator on the math section may help you feel more secure on the ACT.  Since math accounts for only 25% of your total score (compared to 50% on the SAT), I suggest taking the ACT.  Although the science section may worry you, preparing and taking practice tests should help you feel more comfortable with the subject.

Still not sure which test to take?

Try taking a practice test for both (making sure to time yourself).  Based on the results of the practice test and how you felt during each, start preparing for one test or the other.

In a worst-case scenario, you can always retake one or both.  Since the two tests have some overlap in topics, studying for one test indirectly prepares you for the other.

Practice, practice, practice!

Now that you know which test you plan on taking, I recommend a 3-6–month study plan and targeted practice for the test you chose.

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