Which Test To Take: ACT vs. SAT

When you’re a high school junior or senior, it is important to take exams used by college entrance committees to determine your scholastic aptitude. Your grades are highly relative, so by using standardized tests, they can compare you to applicants from across the country. There are two tests from which to choose – the ACT and the SAT. Which should you take if you want to get into college?

Most colleges insist that they don’t consider one better than the other. Some don’t require you to submit scores from either test. However, others have very clear entrance requirements, and if you’re applying to an Ivy League school or other prestigious school, you may want to take both. If you don’t have the time or money to take both, though, here are some of the clear differences:


The SAT is the traditional choice for college students. It lasts just under four hours, and you can take the PSATs when you’re a sophomore to practice. Some other important notes about this test:

  • There is no science section.
  • The SAT focusing on knowing vocabulary in the English section.
  • The SAT better highlights critical thinking skills.
  • On some questions, you could get points off for a wrong answer.
  • The essay section is required.
  • The entire test has 140 questions, including some in the math section where you have to produce your own answer.


More students are choosing to take the ACT every year, but it isn’t as popular as the SAT. Your sophomore year, you can take the PLAN to practice for this exam, which lasts three to four hours, depending on if you do the optional writing section. Some other important ACT information:

  • The ACT tests on science.
  • The English section of the ACT is more focused on grammar than vocabulary.
  • The ACT is a more straight-forward test, asking takers to do less critical thinking.
  • Wrong answers don’t count against you.
  • Some schools require the essay section, but overall, it is optional.
  • The entire test has 215 questions, all of which are multiple-choice.

You also has a third choice – the SAT subject tests. Some schools may require you to take certain subject tests, and if you’re apply to prestigious schools, you may want to take these tests in area where you excel, even if you are not required to do so. It’s a gamble, since your score will be reported from the subject tests too. In other words, if you do poorly on these tests, you can’t request that only the required sections’ scores are reported. Subjects for these tests include history, English, science, math, and various foreign languages.

So which standardized tests should you take? It makes sense to take both the PSAT and PLAN to see where you excel as a sophomore. In general, traditional students will do better on the SAT, while students taking high-level, specialized courses will do better on the ACT. Before you decide, learn more about both of these tests and take some official and unofficial practice tests to see how you do. Read tips for taking them both here.

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