At Academic Approach, we work with families and schools across Chicagoland to support students from all backgrounds to grow scores, skills, and confidence both on and beyond standardized tests.
An important part of this work involves a choice: to ACT or SAT — which test should I take? The ACT or SAT can make Hamlets of us all, leaving us wondering what to do, what path to take. Either test is accepted by every college and university, so it’s really a matter of the right fit between the student and test.
To help students decide, here is some direction on which test can be a better fit.
Reading Comprehension: Marathoner or Sprinter?
When reading, some students are more like marathoners — deliberate, calculating, cautious in decision making. Others prefer a sprinter’s approach — reading and reacting quickly.
The SAT features passages with greater text complexity, but students are granted 43 percent more time per question for thoughtful analysis over 65 minutes. If students prefer the extra time to arrive at decisions, then the SAT is for them. However, if students prefer to glean meaning quickly and make decisions on a quick 35-minute sprint, then the ACT is the better choice.
Mathematical Reasoning: Elbow Grease or Calculator Work?
While SAT and ACT math cover similar material, the SAT assesses demanding algebraic problem-solving and dense word problems. The ACT focuses more on geometry formulae. The ACT also allows use of a calculator throughout while the SAT does not allow calculator use for 20 math questions and has 13 student-produced-response questions with no multiple-choice answers.
In short, if students enjoy grinding out answers with a little elbow grease — multi-step algebra problems without help from the calculator — then the SAT is the better option. If students benefit more from memory of key formulae and calculator use in arriving at answers, the ACT is the preferred path to math.
Science Reasoning: A Full Serving or an Appetizer?
While the SAT and the ACT both assess science reasoning through data presentations, the ACT features a standalone science section. On the ACT, science is always the fourth section, while on the SAT, 35 science-related questions are spread across reading, grammar, and math.
So, if students are fond of science, and enjoy a full serving, then the ACT is the right choice. If students prefer some science appetizers, small servings throughout the test, then they have an appetite for SAT science.
English Grammar: Apples to Apples
The dilemma — to ACT or SAT? — is simplified when it comes to English grammar, which is assessed largely the same way on both tests. Both assess usage and mechanics skills (e.g., sentence construction, punctuation) and rhetorical skills (e.g., essay composition principles). There is no avoiding a healthy and necessary assessment of your student’s college-readiness proofreading and copy-editing skills!
Resolving the Drama
If you are still racked with indecision, let us help you decide which is better for your student through our complimentary testing and analysis. Try them both and allow us to help you find the better fit.