ACT vs. SAT: Which Should I Take?


When you are prepping your student to take their college exams, it can be challenging to know the differences – or the advantages – between them. The two that cause the most confusion are the SAT versus the ACT.


At first glance, the ACT and the SAT aren’t all that different. They are both nationally recognized standardized exams and the most common requirements for college admissions. In fact, most colleges and universities will accept either an ACT or an SAT score, so it isn’t often necessary to take both. That said, how do you decide which one to take that will offer your student the best chances of success?


First let’s explore how these tests relate. In 2016, the SAT underwent a fairly extensive redesign, which actually made it more similar to the ACT exam content than it was before. They both measure student competencies in reading comprehension, math skills, problem solving, and more. They both contain similar sections, which are organized in a predetermined order where each section only appears once throughout the exam. They both adhere to a “rights-only” scoring method, where students are not penalized for incorrect answers (meaning, it’s best for students to guess even on questions they aren’t sure about). Also, they both offer an optional essay section. The score received on the optional essay portion is its own separate score and will not be counted towards the test’s total score.


Overall, the SAT is a slightly longer test (3 hours without the essay, or 3 hours and 50 minutes for the optional essay component). The ACT takes about 2 hours and 55 minutes to complete without the essay, or 3 hours and 35 minutes if you opt for the essay. This equates to approximately 50 seconds per question on the ACT and 1 minute and 10 seconds for each question on the SAT.


Here is a more detailed breakdown of the differences between the two tests:



A great way to start out is to take practice versions of both the SAT and the ACT to help students figure out which one they are better at in a way that is unofficial and not reported. At Future Focused, we offer practice/diagnostic tests for free at our office – give us a call to schedule a time.


The big message: either test will be fine for college entrance eligibility. Better understanding your students strengths and weaknesses will help you decide which test is right for them.

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