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The SAT just underwent major changes, leaving many students more confused than ever about whether to take the ACT or the SAT. In the past, it was pretty clear. Students who wanted a test more aligned to what they were doing in school chose the ACT, and students who were up to the task of memorizing obscure vocabulary words and doing more logic based math questions chose the SAT. Now, the two tests have a lot more in common. Both are about the same length, have no guessing penalty, and have optional essays. With the changes in the SAT, the difference in structure and content between the two tests are less pronounced, but not completely eliminated. There are some subtle differences that may make one test better suited for one student than another.  The good news is that all colleges accept and weight both tests equally, so the only “strategy” to selecting a test is choosing the one that’s best for you.

Here are some tips to help you decide on a test:

You might be better suited for the SAT if…

  • you’re a slower reader. The ACT Reading testing asks questions at a blistering pace. Students must answer 40 questions in 35 minutes, plus read four 750 word passages. Students are allowed about eight minutes a passage. Though there are plenty of skimming and guessing strategies to ease the time crunch, they can take a lot of practice to master. The SAT, on the other hand, asks students to complete 52 questions in 65 minutes, allowing  a generous 13 minutes per each of the five passages (and the passages are the same length as the ACT). The one thing to keep in mind is that though the SAT allows more time to read, there is also more reading to do.
  • geometry is a challenge, but you love algebra. The ACT has about six times more geometry than the SAT. The ACT also requires you to memorize the basic geometry formulas and rules, which the SAT gives to you. The SAT focuses mostly on algebra, so if your math strengths lie here, you should consider the SAT.

You might be better suited for the ACT if…

  • you are intimidated by doing math without a calculator. The biggest curve ball on the new SAT is the no calculator math section. Technically, all the math problems on both tests can be done without a calculator, but many tricks and strategies rely heavily on calculator use. If you don’t feel comfortably completing basic calculations by hand, the ACT is a much better test for you.
  • you like strategy and don’t mind guessing. The ACT is a time crunched test and there’s no way around it. Unless you are aiming for a composite over 30, you will likely have to do some guessing. In fact, using the correct guessing strategy can actually increase your score. If you are intrigued by trying out different elimination strategies, you might be better suited for the ACT. If guessing makes you uncomfortable, stick with the SAT.

Ultimately, a lot of the content on the two tests overlap, so students can start test preparation without being completely sure of which test they will take. In fact, the preparation process can be used to help decide. We typically start test prep by teaching students this overlapping content while also collecting data to help them make an informed decision.  Contact us for more information about our ACT vs. SAT Decider Program.


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