SAT® vs ACT®
Which Test To Take?
The SAT® and ACT® are similar tests in many ways – both are standardized, timed tests used in college admissions processes across the U.S. While they emphasize different skill sets and subject areas, these two tests are equally recognized as benchmarks of college readiness. In 2018, out of 4 million students, 1.9 million took the ACT and 2.1 million took the SAT; about 40% of students took both.
However, there are several key differences between these tests. We often get students asking whether the SAT is more important than the ACT or vice versa, or whether they can take both tests. So, in this article, we are answering all the questions you might have on the ACT vs SAT debate!
What Is the Difference Between the ACT and the SAT?
Both of these tests are widely recognized for undergraduate admissions to colleges. Choosing one test over the other, or taking both tests, depends on what your academic aptitude and goals are. To help you decide, let’s understand the major differences between the SAT and the ACT:
Should I 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. In addition, familiarizing yourself with the types of material covered on each test will give you a good idea of how each test can help you in your career goals. Some students even opt to take both to see how their scores compare. In the following passages, we will address which of these two tests could be the right fit for you in terms of content and strategies.
- The SAT tests more vocabulary knowledge than the ACT.
- Math makes up 50% of the SAT score but only 25% of the ACT score.
- Math on the SAT covers more algebra.
- Math on the ACT covers more higher-level skills including geometry and trigonometry.
What kind of a reader are you?
Are you a slow reader? Or, do you love reading all kinds of books and have a great vocabulary and the ability to understand what you read?
The English section in the ACT accounts for 25% of the total exam score, and the SAT Reading and Writing sections weigh 50% of your final SAT score. While the ACT relies more on skimming long passages for information, the SAT will require a closer reading for comprehension of the passage.
When deciding between the ACT and SAT, you must choose between a test that allows more time per question, but requires a more thorough reading strategy (SAT), and a test that relies on processing information quickly and is comparatively straightforward (ACT), but offers less time per question. Pick the test that better suits your reading aptitude.
Is math a part of your college plans?
The SAT Math Test holds a considerable weight (50%) in the SAT score as opposed to 25% in the ACT. So, if you wish to pursue a STEM field in college and are confident in scoring high in the Math section, then you can go for the SAT.
Can you do math without using a calculator?
SAT Math contributes 50% to your final SAT score, and the paper-and-pencil version allows you to use a calculator only on one section. However, the ACT allows you to use a calculator throughout the entire Math section. So, if you are taking the paper-and-pencil SAT in 2023, assess your math skills and ask yourself, how much do you rely on a calculator? If you feel shaky on your math and rely heavily on a calculator, choosing the ACT may benefit you.
Are you good at memorizing information?
Unlike on the ACT Math Test, you’ll be provided with a formula sheet for your SAT Math. If you’re someone who’s not good at memorizing math formulas, the ACT might not be the test for you.
How good are you at science?
The first question to ask yourself is whether science is a part of your future career. If you are good in overall STEM subjects, the ACT is a better choice for you. However, if science is a subject you are not confident in, choosing the SAT over the ACT could immensely improve your test performance.
Do you typically struggle with timed tests? If so, the SAT will allow you more time to answer per question and might be more suitable for you. Your high school exams will give you an idea of your time management skills. Beyond that, taking timed practice tests is a great way to boost your time management skills.
In addition to these aspects, the decision on which test to use for your college applications should also be based on how well you do on the test you choose. Ultimately, your choice of test should be guided by your strengths and weaknesses. If you are still debating between the ACT or the SAT, taking a practice test for both will help you make an informed decision. In the worst-case scenario, you can always retake one or both. Because some of the same topics are on both tests, studying for one helps prepare for the other.
Is the SAT or ACT Easier?
As you may already know, picking a test that better suits your learning habits, aptitude, skills, and future goals is the first step towards acing the SAT or the ACT. While they both cover similar topics, there are considerable differences in their question types (MCQs v/s SPRs), timing, and subject areas. So, if you’re wondering whether SAT math is harder than ACT math or if ACT English is easier than the SAT, both will be challenging in different ways.
Is it easier to improve on the SAT or the ACT? That depends on how much study time you dedicate to prepare for your test, how quickly you identify your weaker areas, and how often you take practice tests to improve.
ACT vs SAT Score Concordance
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 test based on your score on the other.
The College Board® and the ACT came up with three concordance tables to help you compare your scores: ACT composite to SAT total, ACT math to SAT math, and ACT English and Reading to SAT Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW). 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, and 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 table available at College Board and ACT. The most recent concordance table was released in 2018.
How to Prepare for the SAT and the ACT?
Each test requires a different strategy, so the first step is creating a study guide. You can choose between an SAT study plan and ACT study plan to start your prep. The next step is to look at sample ACT and SAT tests. Familiarizing yourself with the 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.
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 SAT practice tests and ACT practice tests that allow for flexible, in-depth study.
Does studying for the ACT help with the SAT?
Yes, it does. Both of these tests cover similar content in Reading, Writing and Math. There is also a considerable amount of overlap between these two tests in terms of time management and strategies.
Frequently Answered Questions (FAQs)
Yes, you can take both the ACT and the SAT at the same time.