The SAT or the ACT? Which Test Do You Need To Sit.

Posted 2 years ago

The purpose of your US college application is to differentiate yourself from the thousands of hopeful students and show why you’re a better choice. It may sound obvious, but knowing what to include in your application is essential to gaining admission into your dream college. And with a number of elements to consider, you need to twice and thrice check you’ve ticked everything off before you hit submit.


SAT/ACT cheat sheet - blog breakout

One of the required aspects of your college application is your Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) or the American College Testing (ACT) results.

The purpose of these test results is to measure each applicant's academic ability comparative to the rest of the application pool - to see how you stand out academically.

You have the option of two tests, which can cause some confusion. Which one?

However, you need to submit your results for at least one, the SAT or the ACT, it’s not essential or necessary to sit both. In fact, sitting both could end up harming your college application.

Think about it, if you spread yourself too thin you're more likely to achieve two mediocre scores, rather than one impressive result. In theory, the more effort and focus placed on one test, the higher the score.

Pick one, but which one...

For this reason, the wisest course of action is to choose one test that you feel will suit you best based on the differences and put all of your time into absolutely nailing it. It's more important to know which test to sit when trying to achieve your highest possible score.

US colleges have no preference on which results you submit. Admissions officers just look at your score versus other applicants. As a rule of thumb, the top 25% of test takers make up a majority of admits into the elite US colleges.

Colleges assess your candidacy the same way regardless of which test you take, however if you sit the ACT, some universities don't require the SAT Subject Tests.

Play to your strengths

Understanding the differences between the tests will help you play to your strengths when choosing a test. This is key to acing your college application. Some of the more prominent divergences between the tests are:

  • The science section: The ACT exam has a science section, which tests your data reading ability, while the SAT does not

  • The maths section: The ACT test allows you to use a calculator for all questions, while the SAT does not

  • Time to complete the test: To complete all sections, the SAT exam provides you 3 hours (without the optional essay), while the ACT provides you 2 hours and 55 minutes (without the optional essay).

Reading Section Differences

The ACT is brutal.

You need to read four passages and answer 10 questions for each passage in 35 minutes.

That gives you roughly eight minutes per passage.

The SAT is slightly more forgiving.

You need to read five passages and answer 10 or 11 questions for each passage in 65 minutes.

That allows you around 13 minutes per passage.

If you're not a speedy reader, it's advisable to take the extra five minutes per passage in the SAT over the ACT. However, the ACT reading questions tend to be a little more straightforward.

So, what else?

We've written about choosing a test before, and you can check it out here - ‘Which Test Should you sit: ACT or SAT?’.

Sitting practice ACT and SAT tests is the best way to discover which test suits you best. And, for this reason, we often recommend the ACT over the SAT given there are many more practice tests available to sit. However, the final decision of which test to take, ultimately, has to be made by you.

As previously mentioned, you must remember that the success of your college application is not dependent on SAT and ACT test results. At elite colleges, such as Harvard, test results are regarded as helpful indicators of academic ability yet are weighted among other factors, such as extracurriculars and leadership activity.

This means a perfect score does not guarantee entry into your dream school.

Placing all your eggs in one basket to receive the perfect SAT or ACT score can have a negative influence on your college application - you must diversify. Put time into all aspects of your college application develop your case as an irresistible applicant, not just an academically-gifted applicant.

Not allowing yourself any time to develop what’s unique about you is a common mistake on US college applications. Sadly, next to every other high-achieving academic student, a perfect score and high GPA can blend in and disappear amongst the thousands of other high-achieving, hopeful students.

Your college application has to stand out!

Show that you’re a passionate, driven, hard-working, aspirational and empathetic person.

Ultimately, show you’re a decent person capable of more than perfect grades. This has to be done in different parts of your college application, such as your extracurricular and personal essays.

Take the time to understand the differences between the SAT and ACT exams and choose the test you feel more comfortable sitting.

Are you more scientifically-minded?

Then the ACT plays to your strengths with a dedicated science section.

Do you prefer ramping up to the more difficult question? Then both tests will suit your difficulty curve, however some stuents find the SAT's reading passage to where difficulty can vary between passages.

SAT-ACT Score Guide

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, a college application is to show that you’re not only capable of successfully completing a degree, but also that you will be a valuable asset to the college.

Test scores can show you’re capable of completion, extracurriculars and essays can share the benefits you’ll bring to campus. Who you are and what you care about is equally as, if not more, important than high test scores. Keep that in mind when you’re stressing about your academic results! Just do you and you'll do great.

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