Should I take the SAT or the ACT…or both?

The SAT and ACT are in competition for your attention and dollars. Yes, I said it, dollars. While non-profit organizations run these tests, people are still making money. And it is in their best interest that you take their test regardless of whether it is the best test for you.  The SAT went through a radical transformation in 2016. This change makes it bear a remarkable resemblance to the ACT, at least in regards to the English portions. What used to be a pretty easy decision is now more complicated.

Both tests are challenging, but in different ways. So choosing which test to take is now a personal decision based on your own abilities. Don’t base your choice on what your friends are doing, or what test your parents have heard about the most. Understand both tests and what makes them hard or easy for YOU.

Shelf of SAT and ACT test prep books

SAT Basics

  • The SAT currently has 4 sections: Reading, Writing & Language, No Calculator Math, and Calculator Math. **The essay was eliminated in January of 2021
  • It is a 3+ hour test (marathon)
  • Strong focus on Vocabulary
  • Math and Reading/Writing are equally weighted
  • More time for more complex questions

ACT Basics

  • The ACT currently has 5 sections–English (Grammar), Math, Reading, Science, and the Essay
  • It is a 3.5 hour test (a marathon too-with some sprinting added in)
  • Strong focus on data analysis (Science section)
  • The first four sections are averaged to get your score, so reading, grammar and science can pull up weak math
  • Less time for more straightforward questions

Other considerations

When the test can be taken (As long as a worldwide pandemic has not closed all the testing centers)

  • SAT in the United States is available in March, May, June, August, October, November, and December
  • SAT International is available in March, May, June, August, October, and December
  • ACT United States is available in May, June, August, September, November, January, and February
  • ACT International is available in April, June, July, September, October, December, February

Currently the ACT in the U.S. and the SAT are written on Paper with bubble sheets. BUT International ACTs are now written on computers.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

The SAT gives more time per question for the whole test. So if you are a slow reader or time management is a problem, then the SAT might be a better choice.

The ACT has a dedicated science section, but this is really just a reading comprehension section in disguise. So if you are a strong reader, the ACT might be a better choice.

The ACT allows you to use your calculator in the math section, but the SAT has a not calculator section. So if you can’t live without your calculator, the ACT might be a better choice

Which state do you live in?

If you live in the United States, you may be required to take one or the other test. So it would make sense to study for the test you will have to take anyway.

ACT States: Alabama, Hawaii, Kentucky, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, Utah, Wisconsin, Wyoming

SAT States: Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, D.C. Illinois, Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, West Virginia

Should I take both?

There was a trend for a few years of high performing students taking both tests. The assumed that having a high score on both would convince Top 50 schools that they were special. This is not the case. You don’t need to take both tests to be competitive. The universities just want a score, any score. Now, if you have been working on one test or the other for over a year and are struggling to improve, try downloading FREE copies of the other test.

Free SAT tests are available through

A Free ACT test is available at

If a School is Test Optional, do I have to take the SAT?

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