The SAT vs. ACT: Which Test is the One for You?

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If this is how choosing between the SAT and ACT makes you feel, you’re not alone. Most high schoolers (and their parents) feel really lost with how to pick the exam to represent them in college admissions. I remember feeling pretty overwhelmed just two years ago when I was making the same decision.

The reality, though, is that the process is much less intimidating than it seems. There’s no “better” or “right” choice: both exams are weighed equally in college admissions and even in merit-based scholarships. Both also have an optional essay section, so you can send an essay score to your colleges regardless of the exam you take. This guide is here to help you choose which exam you’ll thrive taking.

Let’s first look at some key differences between the two exams:

The SAT

Length: 3 hours (optional essay is an additional 50 minutes long)

Sections: Reading, Writing & Language, Math (calculator & no calculator)

The optional essay: Asks you to analyze a source text

The ACT

Length: 2 hours and 55 minutes (optional essay is an additional 45 minutes long)

Sections: English, Math (all calculator), Reading, Science Reasoning

The optional essay: Asks you to develop a position on a complex issue

But what does this mean for you? Here’s a list of traits that would help you succeed on each exam. Read through each one, and think about whether you align more with those of the SAT or the ACT.

The SAT

  • I prefer to take my time on questions, so I can really think through the answer choices.
  • English and reading comprehension are my strengths.
  • I’m comfortable with reading longer passages carefully.
  • I feel pretty comfortable doing math without a calculator.
  • I am good at analyzing the strategies used in a text.

The ACT

  • I prefer fast-paced exams, and I’m good at getting to the right answer quickly.
  • Critical thinking and analyzing data are my strengths.
  • I’m comfortable with skimming passages quickly to find information.
  • I strongly prefer doing math with a calculator.
  • I am good at arguing my position on complicated issues.

The bottom line is that figuring out which test is best for you isn’t always black and white, and it can definitely feel like a hard decision. If you still aren’t sure, AE2 Learning is only a phone call away! Here at AE2, we’ll give you diagnostic tests to help you find the exam that’s best for you. I would love to know which exam you chose to take and why. If you have any other questions, you can also leave them down below!

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