Pin Me

The ACT or SAT? Which Test Should You Take?

written by: Stephanie Torreno•edited by: Laurie Patsalides•updated: 8/1/2010

If you are beginning to think about college, you will probably begin preparing to take a standardized admissions test. You might be asking yourself, “Do colleges like the ACT or the SAT better?” Continue reading to learn the differences between the two tests and which one colleges prefer.

  • slide 1 of 2

    Differences between the ACT and the SAT

    Do colleges like the ACT or the SAT better? Before answering that question, read a short description of each exam to learn how the tests differ from one another.

    The American College Testing program (ACT) contains four multiple-choice tests covering English, reading, mathematics, and science. You will be given ample time to complete the tests - 2 hours and 55 minutes. An optional 30-minute writing test measures your ability to develop and write an essay. On the ACT, incorrect answers are discarded and only correct answers count. Your composite, or overall, score is an average of the four tests and will range from 1 to 36. If you take the writing test, the additional scores, along with comments about your essay, will be reported separately. More of an aptitude test, the SAT may be better suited to you if you have good deductive reasoning capabilities. Good test-takers typically perform well on the SAT.

    The Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) for Reasoning is similar to the ACT in that it has multiple-choice tests. The SAT, however, begins its writing section with a required 25-minute essay. In addition, you will complete critical reading and math sections. You will be given more time to complete the longer exam with 3 hours and 5 minutes. The SAT also differs from the ACT with a part of the math section in which you will be required to produce your own answers. Unlike the ACT, the SAT slightly penalizes incorrect answers on the multiple-choice questions (not on written ones). On the SAT, you can earn a maximum of 800 points on each of the three sections.

    The ACT tests your knowledge of the subjects covered in high school. This exam focuses on grammar and punctuation. If you earned good grades in enough challenging classes, then the ACT may be the test for you because you will be tested on the material you learned. The SAT, on the other hand, measures your reasoning or critical thinking skills, which will be used and developed throughout college. It also concentrates more on vocabulary.

  • slide 2 of 2

    Deciding Which Test to Take

    So, do colleges like the ACT or SAT better? The truth is that most selective colleges and universities accept either test. Depending on your individual strengths and weaknesses, you should make the choice of which one to take. If you are still undecided about taking the ACT or SAT, you should take both and become familiar with the two formats. Then, you can evaluate your test performance on each one and retake the one you choose, if necessary. After all, when you prepare for the test best suited to your skills, you will generally score higher. That is the most important factor in the demanding college admission process.