SAT vs. ACT
Countless research studies have concluded that neither the SAT or ACT has very high predictive power in terms of students’ actual success in college. Yet for almost 90 years, standardized testing has played a significant role in the college admissions process. While a growing number of elite colleges and universities are becoming SAT optional (Bowdoin, Bates, American, Wake Forest, Gettysburg, just to name a few), high stakes testing remains an essential element of the admissions picture for many students.
The SAT may have been the clear-cut choice of previous generations, but the ACT has soared in popularity in recent years. In fact, an almost even number of students now take each exam every year. This begs the question, which test should you take?
Here are some quick facts that may help you decide:
1. The SAT covers Reading, Math, and Writing. The ACT covers English, Math, Reading, and Science. The Science questions are more a test of reading comprehension than a deep understanding of Newton’s Second Law, but if Science is not your favorite subject, the ACT may be worth avoiding.
2. There is no penalty for guessing on the ACT. The SAT knocks you ¼ point for every wrong answer making filling in a random bubbles a dangerous enterprise.
3. The SAT is vocab-heavy. If you have a strong vocabulary, you will have a huge edge on the SATs.
4. More advanced math is covered on the ACT. If you haven’t aced your advanced math courses in high school, the SAT Math section may be more friendly to you.
5. The SAT is longer in duration. Students with attentional problems or learning disabilities sometimes do better with the shorter ACT.
6. There is less of a gender gap on the ACT. Girls score almost identically to boys on the ACT, while gender inequity persists on the SAT, with boys holding an advantage. Girls who struggle with the SAT may want to consider giving the ACT a try.
College Transitions Tip: It is in your best interest to take both the SAT and ACT. Schools will take your best score on any of the exams. Even if you score high on the SAT, give the ACT a try (or vice versa). Ultimately, there is no penalty for attempting the other exam, even if your score is lower.
Dave has over a decade of professional experience that includes work as a teacher, high school administrator, college professor, and independent educational consultant. He is a co-author of the books The Enlightened College Applicant (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016) and Colleges Worth Your Money (Rowman & Littlefield, 2020).