When it comes to choosing between the ACT and SAT, it's challenging to come up with a clear winner. Often students spend too much time analyzing, and they still can't come up with a solution. The issue lies in the fact that they let other people's opinion affect their decision making. What might help them is analyzing the fundamental differences between both tests.  

As far as colleges are concerned, there's really no preference on their part. They just want students to perform well in whichever test they choose. So, this means only students can decide what's suitable for them. And to do that, they need to read about both tests, analyze the critical aspects of each, and consider the one that matches their strengths.

ACT or SAT: Which test to take?

If you're going with an opinion of choosing the easier one, you're out of luck. You need to understand that a lot is on the line when it comes to college admissions, and neither of the tests is going to be easier than others. What might help you is taking a practice test for each. After that, you might able to decide on the one that you felt comfortable with. Even if you went in with hardly any preparation, comparing how well you performed will also help.

The two exams might appeal in a unique way to you. If you have a strong English background, you will undoubtedly develop a liking for the ACT as it is basically 3/4 reading and 1/4 math. If you enjoy doing math, the SAT might be the way to go for you. SAT places equal emphasis on the verbal and math sections. If you like solving puzzles and riddles, the SAT becomes an obvious choice for you. But if you prefer questions having a more direct approach, you will want to skip on the SAT and take the ACT. The SAT is longer, while the ACT is around 3 hours.      

You almost certainly won't be required to take both the SAT and the ACT. If you've been shortlisted for National Merit, you will have to appear for the SAT to qualify as a finalist. Barring unusual circumstances, ideally, you should practice and appear for both. Most colleges accept both scores, and there is no preference given to one particular test. Many independent consultants advise you to take both college admission tests by fall of junior year and prepare meticulously to retake the preferred exam later.

SAT Subject Tests

SAT Subjects Tests are often recommended by many, but they are optional. While college boards might want applicants to appear for them, they also understand that not all students can afford these tests. Also, most students might not even be aware of them until they submit their applications. If you aren't financially stable to appear for these subject tests, check if you might be eligible for any fee waivers. You can get in touch with your school counselor or independent consultants for this information. If still, you aren't able to appear for these subject tests, you can make the college admission panel aware of the reason by specifying the information in your application form with a short paragraph.

Subject tests might be optional, but they sure are important. They're often suggested to students if that's not too much for them considering the financial aspects. Many colleges and schools might use these tests o analyze your application even if it's not a requirement.  

If you can afford it, take at least two Subject Tests. The reason is that some highly selective colleges might want to see these scores in your applications. Don't be surprised if some of them mandate it; it's entirely up to them. Some students might also view these as parameters to stand out, and rightly so. If you aren't low income or first-generation, some colleges and schools might rank you a bit higher based on your subject test scores.    

If you're beginning your college application journey, you should certainly look into taking Subject Tests as early as your freshman summer. You can have some lucrative credentials to your name if you work strategically. Maybe you can choose subjects like Bio or World History in your freshman summer, and once you do well in those classes, get SAT Subject test study material to prepare for these tests. You can easily avail the books and material with some online digging. If you're able to take them early in your high school career, it might clear your path down the line when it comes to a quality college education. Be mindful that you can take up to three Subject Tests on the same day, but that doesn't allow you to appear for Subject Tests and the regular SAT for the same session.   

Test Prep Tips

There are several resources available, both online and offline, to prepare for these tests. For the SAT, you can consider Khan Academy and the SAT subreddit as a useful resource to guide you in the right direction. For the ACT, you can head to the official ACT website to get the ball rolling and later add a touch of finesse with the ACT subreddit. You can also check out other resources like Applerouth Testing, CrackSAT, Erica Meltzer's books, and College Panda, to name a few. When preparing for Subject Tests, make sure you've aligned yourself with the prep book. Be mindful of the fact that Subject Tests are a lot different as compared to regular SAT's.        

Take a look at these essential tips that will help you in preparing for these critical tests.  

  • If you particularly struggle with the reading section, you should practice reading as much as you can. Get your hands dirty with anything you can find, be it Literature, fiction, newspaper, science fiction, or Fantasy; all will help you get high scores in the verbal section.  
  • Developing strong skills for the verbal section will also help you in general with your exams. Remember, the key to answering correctly lies in the fact that you read and understand the questions well.
  • Make sure you take ample tests to prepare adequately for your preferred test. Put aside all your distractions like phone and other accessories that might divert your mind. Train yourself to stay focused for long durations, and don't let events surrounding you affect your determination.
  • You can time yourself across the different sections to better pace through the test.
  • While analyzing your practice scores, focus on the answers you get wrong. Try to analyze was its lack of preparation or other factors like time scarcity that led to such mistakes.    
  • Work hard while you have the time, but allow yourself at least a week off before the final test. You wouldn't want your mind to be filled with distracting thoughts when appearing for the examination. Indulge in activities that you enjoy in your leisure time and reach a healthy, peaceful mental state as the test approaches.

Last minute helpful test prep hints

  • Don't spend the night before the test revising all the stuff that you covered during preparation. Get at least 8 hours of sleep as you being relaxed in the examination hall is as critical as your preparation. Practice your morning routine and chores as usual. It's essential that you not let the anxiety of the test overpower you. It would be best if you were as relaxed as possible.
  • Have a proper meal before leaving for the test as you don't want to starve through the test and long for energy midway. But be mindful of not overeating as it can make you lazy.
  • Have all accessories for the test in place. If you need a calculator, make sure you have the right one with you. You don't want to leave it outside the examination hall because you brought a scientific calculator instead of an ordinary one. Also, make sure it works fine.
  • Put all your documents required for the entry into the examination hall at a secure place.  
  • Take along a sweater or a hoodie with you to keep you warm. Often the hall's air conditioner makes students uncomfortable.
  • Arrive at least 15 minutes early for the exam; you wouldn't want to be rushed. Make yourself comfortable with the surroundings by arriving early.

Final Word

SAT and ACT are both applicable when it comes to realizing your college dreams, but a lot depends on your personal choice and cognitive preferences. Both tests are different in terms of timing, content, and approach, and only you can decide what might be the best for you. Colleges have no preference based on the test, and you can choose freely based on your understanding and abilities. You can surely consider expert opinions, but it's really up to you to decide to analyze your performance in practice tests.

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