Guide to Awesome Test Prep: Which Test Should You Take?

The first step in college admissions is to decide which entrance exam to take. SAT? ACT? Both? Here are some key differences that can help you decide which test is better for you.
Crystal Nikish's avatar by Crystal Nikish, PrepMe Student Advisor. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in English and a minor in Education Theory and Policy. Her favorite food is chocolate.

The first step in attacking college entrance exams is to decide which test you should take. SAT? ACT? Both? The answer is really just a matter of personal preference. Both tests are accepted at most American colleges and universities, and there's no bias for which test is more likely to get you that acceptance letter. Just make sure to double check that the schools you're interested in applying to accept either test. Here are some key differences that can help you decide which test is better for you:

Achievement vs. Aptitude

The ACT is considered an achievement test, which means that it directly tests what you've learned in high school. Some students find this more straight-forward and easier than the SAT, which is considered an aptitude test and measures reasoning and verbal abilities, which can be harder to study for.

Take the ACT if you don't like answering tricky questions, SAT if you'd rather not show your work.


Writing and Vocabulary vs. Math and Science

The SAT puts more emphasis on writing skills and vocabulary than the ACT, which focuses more on punctuation in its own English section. The essay portion is also required on the SAT while only being optional on the ACT and not included in your composite score. However, the ACT Math section includes more complex skills like trigonometry and the Science section tests your ability to read and understand graphs, scientific hypotheses, and research summaries.

Take the SAT if you have strong writing and vocab skills; ACT if math and science are your thing.


Tight Time Limit vs. Penalty for Guessing

The ACT is 215 questions in 3 hours and 25 minutes, while the SAT is 140 questions (plus the essay) in 3 hours and 45 minutes. So technically, the ACT gives you less time to spend on each question, but at least they are all around the same level of difficulty. The SAT instead puts the easier questions up front, but penalizes you for random guessing. It really just depends on which stress you can handle better.

Take the ACT if you've got good time management skills; SAT if you have a more intense focus.


Before you make your decision, try to take a practice test for each exam. You'll get an idea of how each test works for you and you can compare your scores to see if one is significantly better than the other. You can try a 5-day full trial of both PrepMe online test prep courses, including practice tests, for just $5. Once you know which test you should take, you'll be ready to move on to Step 2: How to Choose the Best Test Prep Solution for You.

filed under Test Prep, Guide to Awesome Test Prep
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