ACT vs. SAT: Which College Entrance Exam to Take?

The choice between the ACT (American College Testing) and SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test) is a significant decision for high school students planning to apply to colleges or universities in the United States. Both tests serve as standardized assessments of college readiness and are widely accepted by institutions across the country. However, they have distinct formats, content, and scoring systems. To make an informed decision about which test to take, consider the following factors:

Test Format


- The ACT consists of four sections: English, Math, Reading, and Science, with an optional Writing (Essay) section.

- The English section assesses grammar and writing skills.

- The Math section covers algebra, geometry, and some trigonometry.

- The Reading section evaluates reading comprehension and analysis.

- The Science section focuses on interpreting data and scientific reasoning.

- The Writing section requires you to analyze and provide your perspective on a specific issue.


- The SAT has three main sections: Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW), Math, and an optional Essay section.

- EBRW combines Reading and Writing, testing your reading comprehension, vocabulary, and writing skills.

- The Math section emphasizes algebra, problem-solving, data analysis, and some geometry and trigonometry.

- The optional Essay section evaluates your ability to analyze a given text and construct a well-structured argument in response.

Test Content


- The ACT tends to be more straightforward in its content, focusing on core academic skills.

- It includes a Science section that assesses your ability to interpret scientific data and charts.

- The Math section includes trigonometry, which is not as prominent on the SAT.


- The SAT often requires a more complex approach to questions, emphasizing critical thinking and problem-solving.

- It includes a more extensive focus on vocabulary and reading comprehension.

- Math questions are often presented in real-world contexts.

Test Scoring


- The ACT scoring scale ranges from 1 to 36 for each of the four sections.

- Your composite score is the average of the four section scores, rounded to the nearest whole number.

- The optional Writing section is scored separately on a scale of 2 to 12.


- The SAT scoring scale ranges from 400 to 1600, combining your EBRW and Math scores.

- The optional Essay section is scored separately on a scale of 6 to 24.

- The SAT also reports sub-scores and cross-test scores to provide more detailed feedback.

Test Length


- The ACT is generally considered to be more time-pressured, with less time per question.


- The SAT provides more extended time limits per question, allowing for a more deliberate pace.

Test Preparation


- ACT test prep often emphasizes content review and timed practice tests.

- Many students find that they need to work on pacing strategies to manage the time constraints.


- SAT test prep often focuses on critical thinking, problem-solving, and vocabulary development.

- The extended time limits can make it easier to manage the pace of the test.

College Preferences

- Check College Requirements: 

Research the colleges or universities you plan to apply to and determine whether they have a preference for one test over the other. Many institutions accept both tests equally.

- Optional Essay: 

Consider whether you want to take the optional essay section, as some colleges may require it.

Personal Strengths

- Reflect on Your Strengths: 

Think about your strengths and weaknesses as a test-taker. Are you more comfortable with content-based questions or critical thinking? Your natural strengths may align better with one test over the other.

Test Timing and Availability

- Test Dates: 

Check the test dates and availability for both the ACT and SAT. Consider your schedule and when you'll have sufficient time for preparation and taking the test.


- Cost Considerations: 

Both tests have associated fees, including registration fees and optional fees for additional services like rush score reporting.

Retaking the Test

- Retake Policy: 

Understand the policies for retaking the test if you're not satisfied with your initial score. Some students choose to take both tests to see which one yields a higher score.


In conclusion, the choice between the ACT and SAT should be based on your personal strengths, the content and format of each test, and the preferences of the colleges you plan to apply to. It's essential to research and consider all these factors carefully. Ultimately, your goal should be to select the test that allows you to showcase your skills and abilities most effectively to college admissions committees.