Should I take the SAT or the ACT?

Taken, in part, from

While the SAT and ACT are very different tests, they both fulfill the same role in the admissions process. The SAT and ACT are designed to provide college admissions officers with two things: a predictor of first-year academic achievement in college, and a common yardstick to use in comparing students from a wide range of educational backgrounds.

The most important answer to the “SAT or ACT?” question is to check with your target schools about their requirements. If you have specific colleges in mind, find out from the high schools or your counselor which test the schools require or accept. Although the majority of colleges in the United States now accept both SAT or ACT test results, you’d better make sure about requirements of your target colleges.  If your target colleges accept both, think about which test you can better perform on.

One good reason for considering the ACT is that it may save you from having to take four SAT tests. Many competitive colleges now require applicants to take both the SAT I Reasoning Test and up to three SAT II Subject Tests. However, there are a number of schools including Boston College and Duke that do not require you to take SAT II tests if you take the ACT. So taking the ACT might save you hours of testing (and even more hours of preparation), and save your money.

Please note that these policies vary from school to school. There are a number of schools that require the SAT II regardless of their ACT or SAT I requirements. Be sure to do the research by yourself and make everything crystal clear before you make any decision over your test choice.




Preferred by?

Private Schools; schools on the east and west coasts

Public schools; schools in the middle of the country; more colleges than prefer the SAT

How Questions Appear

Order of difficulty

No order of difficulty

Score Choice?



Highest Math Level

Algebra/Basic Geometry; test booklet supplies all formulas

Trigonometry (only 4 questions); test booklet rarely provides formulas

Skills Heavily Tested

Vocabulary and Reading; Math

Grammar and Reading; Math

Penalty for Wrong Answers?



Based on School Curriculum?



Style of Test

Tricky, with many distracters

More straightforward, with fewer distracters

Structure of Test

Verbal: two-30 min. sections, one-15 min. section; Math: two-30 min., sections, one- 15 min. section; Experimental: one-30 min. Verbal or Math section; looks like any other section

English: one-45 min. section; Math: one-60 min. section; Reading: one-35 min. section; Science Reasoning: one-35 in. section; Experimental: added to tests on certain dates, clearly added on

When it’s Offered

Seven times per year: late January, late March or early April, early May, early June, mid October, early November, early December

Six times per year: February, April, June, September (in 13 states only), October, December


200-800 for Math and for Verbal, added together for a composite score; median about 1000

1-36 for each subject, averaged together for a composite score; median about 21

When You Should Register

At least six weeks before the test date

At least four weeks before the test date

For More Information

Educational Testing Service (ETS)
(609) 771-7600;
The College Board;

ACT: (319) 337 1000;