Breaking down the SAT and ACT: Which is for you? Part 1

By Jenn Cohen

College admissions exams are a fact of life for most college bound students.  Despite a growing number of test optional schools, test scores are still required to complete the majority of applications.  Many merit-based scholarship opportunities require strong test scores as well.  Fortunately, college admissions exams do not have to be exercises in torture.  With planning and preparation, they can be fun!  OK, maybe not fun, but they can be a manageable hurdle to overcome instead of a mountain.  Read on for some quick tips on choosing which test is right for you, as well as more in-depth information on what the tests cover.

For most students, there is no need to consider officially taking both the SAT and the ACT.  High school students have too much on their schedules already, and prepping for two tests when one will do just doesn’t make sense.  There are exceptions (i.e. a student who prefers the ACT, but wants to prep for the PSAT for possible National Merit recognition), but most students should opt for one or the other.  Make a choice, and invest time, effort and money in only one test.

Ideally, students should make a decision based on either their performance on the PSAT (practice SAT) and PLAN (practice ACT) tests, or on free official SAT or ACT practice tests available on The College Board and ACT websites.  But, if those results aren’t available, here are a few clues to which test might be best for you:

Choose the SAT if:

  • You’re an avid reader and have built up a strong vocabulary
  • You prefer working at a slower pace
  • You’re an “outside the box” thinker and enjoy finding solutions to novel problems
  • Writing is a strength, both in terms of understanding grammar and composing an essay

Choose the ACT if:

  • You can work quickly
  • You’re strong in math and science
  • You prefer questions more similar to those you see in school
  • You struggle with essay writing (the ACT essay is optional - check the admissions requirements of your target colleges to determine if you need to do the writing section)

Jenn Cohen is the is the owner of Jenn Cohen Tutoring. She has 15 years of experience as an SAT/ACT tutor, specializing in ADHD students.