OK. So here’s what we know:

1) Colleges don’t care which test you take; both tests are accepted equally.

2) The two tests test much of the same material; in fact, the material being tested is more alike than it is different.

3) The majority of students will score “similarly” on the two tests; in other words, you’ll be unique if you do well on the SAT and poorly on the ACT, or vice versa.

So…. which one?

In my opinion, given that you’ll most likely score similarly on both, the test that’s for you is the one you prefer, the one you like, the one you’re more willing to study for. There are, however, some nuances worth considering.

Science – This is the most obvious difference between the two tests; there is no Science section on the SAT. The Science section makes up 25% of the ACT’s Composite Score, so if this is a section you like, or do well on, the ACT may be the better choice. The Science section, however, may be the easiest section to improve on as, in my experience, doing well means being fast, and simply getting a handle on the timing can lead to solid gains in the score.

(The time pressure on the Science section caught me off guard when I took my first ACT. I was amazed at my improvement of 6 points when all I really did was focus on moving quickly, getting a quick sense of the data and then going right to the questions.)

1600 or 2400 – Are the colleges you’re interested in looking at only the SAT’s Critical Reading and Math scores (i.e. using 1600 as a top score) or are they also looking at the Writing score (2400)? This can make a difference if you’re either really good or really bad at the Writing/English portion of the two tests.

For example, if your Writing score is really good, but the college is using the 1600 SAT scale, then the section you’re really good on won’t come in to play on the SAT. It will, however, come in to play on the ACT as the English score makes up 25% of the Composite Score. Conversely, for a college using the 2400 SAT scale, a good Writing score makes up 33% of the total.

(In my case, my SAT Writing score was my highest score both times. If the college was on the 1600-point scale, they wouldn’t even look at it.)

Essay – The essay makes up approximately 30% of the SAT Writing score; the essay doesn’t factor at all in the ACT English or Composite Score. This is not as big a deal as the first two, but it may make a difference if you’re either a really good or really bad timed-essay writer.

Qualify for Extra Time – The biggest student complaint on the ACT is “not enough time.” If you qualify for extra time, the ACT may well be the better choice.

Hope this helps. Don’t forget… Plan, Practice, Perform. 🙂

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