Should You Take the SAT, ACT, or BOTH?

If you are planning to go to college, then standardized exams are a fact of life, and among the many decisions you are likely to be confronted with is whether to take the SAT or the ACT.  Many students take each exam every year, and while some schools may prefer one over the other, which one you choose to take is still a personal decision.

Consider School Choice First

If you have a clear preference of which schools you want to apply to, and they have a clear preference for which set of exam scores they would like to see, then this should be a major factor in your decision process.  In this and other areas of life, your intended outcome should be the primary factor guiding all of your decisions, and the more clear you are about this outcome, the easier the planning and decision making process becomes.  At the very least, your considerations of intended outcome should help to narrow down your options, if they don’t completely determine the decision for you.

How The Tests Are Different

While the SAT and ACT are equally meritorious, and both designed to serve the same purpose, there are some subtle differences between the exams that may cause one or the other to be more preferable for certain individuals.  One consideration that existed in the past but that no longer does is geographical: both exams are widely accepted among colleges and universities today, to the extent that they are almost interchangeable.

Based on your individual strengths and weaknesses, you may expect to do slightly better on one test than in the other, allowing your testing choice to be part of your college admissions strategy.  If you want to maximize your percentile score and your college choices don’t determine the decision for you, the following loose generalities might help you decide which one you would rather take.

- The SAT does not include science reasoning, trigonometry, or English grammar, unlike the ACT.

- The SAT places more emphasis on writing and vocabulary than the ACT does.

- The SAT has a small penalty for wrong answers, which discourages random guessing, which the ACT does not.

- Questions on the SAT tend to be a bit more critical reasoning based, whereas questions on the ACT tend to be more straightforward and factual (although there are quite a few exceptions to this on both sides).

- Most schools view ACT scores as a single composite score and tend to look more closely at the individual subject test scores for the SAT.

Should You Take Both?

If you want to take both exams then more power to you, as there are no rules prohibiting this, and it can look even more impressive to submit both scores with your college applications.  If you think that you are up to this challenge then you probably are, and it might not even be as hard as you think, since the knowledge and skills tested by the exams are largely parallel.


Dane Dormio is an online tutor and blogger with an unconventional approach to education.  Visit his tutoring blog at