High School Juniors ask:
“Should I take the SAT or ACT? Which is easier? Which is harder?”
These are questions that most juniors in high school who are planning to attend a four year college after graduation would love a straightforward answer to, but it actually depends on what you find to be easy or hard. That’s not a very satisfying answer though, so here are a few guidelines:
1. The ACT might be easier for you than the SAT if:
You are really fast at your work.
You generally don’t have trouble running out of time on tests at school and you are a fast reader. The ACT, in many ways, is still a more straightforward test, provided you can finish it in time.
You like science and are good at interpreting data and trends. You really don’t need to know much science to do well on the ACT Science section, but it doesn’t hurt to be interested in what you are reading. Students who may not be a fan of science, but are really good at seeing the trends in graphs and tables and being able to deduce the next step in a process are also likely to be successful at ACT Science.
You are glued to your calculator in math class. The prospect of the no-calculator section and the grid-ins on the SAT might be a bit more intimidating for you then.
2. The SAT might be easier for you than the ACT if:
You’re not a fast reader, but you’re a good reader. You can understand readings pretty well when you take your time. While you may not be able to take all the time you’d like on the SAT, you will encounter more complex passages on the SAT vs ACT. This combined with the slightly shorter passages on the SAT and the slightly longer time period you have to answer questions on the SAT could make the SAT a better choice.
You’re good at mental math. You’ll be able to breeze through the no-calculator section with confidence while other students sweat.
You’re good at reading between the lines and finding traps. The SAT, while not as tricky as it was in the past, still has some tricks up its sleeve. And the better you are at standardized test games, the better you’ll be at the SAT.
3. Should you take both the ACT and SAT?
Generally speaking, it is recommended to try taking both the SAT and the ACT once if you are not sure which test you might perform better on. It is a good idea to take a trial SAT/ACT test offered by most test prep companies, often administered on a weekend morning at many high schools, which tell you in a shortened format which test you are better suited for. But if you have a pretty good idea which test you would do better on, it is NOT recommended taking both because you’re splitting your test prep efforts and condemning yourself to more Saturday mornings in a testing center, cutting down on your time for school, activities, and life.
However, here are a couple of exceptions to the not taking both test recommendation:
You’re a REALLY strong test-taker eyeing the most competitive schools and feel pretty confident you can get a top score on both tests. Some top schools (aka a few of the Ivies) have indicated that they like to see both scores. It gives them more data to have confidence that you are strong across the board. But don’t take this as a mandate; if you need to focus on studying full-force to get a top score on one test, put all your efforts there.
You’ve started your testing early and decide you need to change tactics. Maybe you’ve hit a wall with your ACT scores and want to try the SAT. Or vice versa. If you do this, you want to make sure you have plenty of time to focus on one specific test in your prep. For example, if possible, take the ACT in February and the SAT in May so you have three solid months in between to switch gears. But with the increased similarities between the SAT and ACT, you may certainly find that you need less time in between.
There’s so much advice out there on the internet on ACT vs SAT, and so much of it is not good for you. A particular concern right now is outdated information about the SAT. The SAT changed drastically in early 2016, so anything written before this point that hasn’t been updated is not going to help you at all. And the situation is still developing as students take the new SAT, so keep your eyes open for updated information and don’t rely on everything even the College Board said before the actual launch of the new SAT last year. The reality is that more students are taking the Act than the SAT, which partly motivated the College Board to change the SAT to compare more closely with the ACT. But the tests are still a bit different and one may be better than another for a particular student. Choose wisely, or just take each of them to see.
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