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Last Updated: March 15, 2021


The SAT and ACT are two exams popularly taken by high school students seeking admission into a university. Each exam evaluates student's general knowledge in several areas and their readiness for university studies. While each exam is slightly different and offers slight advantages, there are a few differences that might aid candidates in deciding which exam is best for them.

Both the exams have common sections including Reading, Writing, and Math even though their approach to these sections is slightly different. The decision to choose between ACT and SAT also depends on other factors like whether the student had taken a PreACT or PSAT which will require them to attempt ACT or SAT respectively.

Why Take the ACT?

In the ACT exam, the questions tend to be straightforward and easy to understand, although the answers may still be quite challenging to come by. Additionally, for those who are weak in math, the ACT does not require them to produce answers, but instead it offers multiple-choice options throughout. Students who are strong in science may like the chance to show their skills in the science section. Finally, the ACT is known overall for being a more straight-forward assessment of one's knowledge and doesn't evaluate one's critical thinking skills.

Why Take the SAT?

While the question phrasing in the SAT might be challenging compared to the ACT, quite often the answers are still quite simple. Questions increase in difficulty progressively, which is good for students who have trouble warming up, or are confused by questions that appear easier than they are, in the ACT the difficulty level is random. Students taking the SAT will be provided with math formulas in their test booklet, and students who are weak in science will not have to complete a science section like in the ACT. Finally, the SAT also offers subjects tests that may be required by the school that has been chosen, especially Ivy League schools, and taking these exams can improve the candidate’s potential for being admitted into a school.

Similarities Between ACT and SAT

Differences Between ACT and SAT

Which Test is Required by the School?

First and foremost, both exams are accepted by nearly every four-year university, but some exams are more typically taken in certain parts of the country or for particular types of schools. The SAT is more popular with private schools and west and east coast schools. The ACT, on the other hand, is more popular in the Midwest and south. Research shows that the same student is likely to have comparable results on either exam, so candidates who are still undecided, can take a few practice exams and see which one works best for their skills and test-taking style.

Finally, a few things to consider are testing times and registration deadlines. The SAT can be registered a little closer to the testing date, with the registration deadline only four weeks before the exam, so if one has forgotten to register early, they will have more leeway with the SAT, whereas the ACT requires registering five to six weeks in advance. Both exams are frequently offered, six or seven times a year, and at many times of the year, aside from December, January, and June, the tests are offered in alternating months, so if all else fails, take both exams at different times of the year.

Ultimately, the most important factors to base your decision on are which exam will best reflect the candidate’s abilities and which exam is most popularly taken for admission into their school of choice. After weighing one’s strengths, their school's preferences, and possibly taking a few practice exams, make the decision and practice with that study guide because in either case, the most important thing one can do is to be well-prepared so that the scores are the best they can be.

Choosing one test- SAT vs ACT

The only way in which a student can choose between the two exams is to identify their strengths and weaknesses based on their performance in school. Leaving out factors like the distance to the test center, the approaching deadlines, etc. one can have a practical approach while choosing between the tests.

Candidates can always choose to write both the exams if the cost will not be a burden to them. Attempting both the exams will leave those in the selection panels of colleges no choice but to take in the student committed to education as long as the candidate has scored a decent grade. Some universities prefer to see both the grades though it isn’t mandatory so that they can judge the ability of the student without having to convert grades and assess accordingly. But this is all subjective in nature since if the student has already attempted PreACT or PSAT they will be required to take the ACT or SAT respectively to earn more scholarships in college.

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