Thoughts on choosing the ACT vs SAT

There are several thousand (at least) articles on the internet discussing this question, so why not one more! But seriously, a few thoughts about what I have observed regarding students deciding which test to take:

  1. Every college accepts the ACT in lieu of the SAT. Most parents here on the East Coast grew up with the SAT as the default and are not sure what the ACT is all about or even whether colleges accept it. So to reiterate, all colleges accept the ACT, so if a student is scoring much higher on the ACT they can possibly skip the SAT entirely.
  2. Vocabulary - A student with a weaker vocabulary and PSAT/SAT Reading scores below 500 may be better served taking the ACT, as the ACT does not test vocabulary and the Reading passages are much more straightforward. As I warn my students and parents, the SAT Critical Reading is the hardest score in all of standardized testing to improve, simply because a lot of it depends on a wide knowledge of vocabulary as well as a familiarity with challenging college-level texts that students are not often exposed to in high school.
  3. Speed - A student who struggles with time on standardized tests may be better served taking the SAT, as the ACT is a test that in many ways measures speed. While overall the questions on the ACT may be more straightforward, this advantage may be negated by a student’s inability to answer them all in time.
  4. English versus Math - Students who are stronger in Math often favor the ACT as it has two sections (Math and Science) that cover mathematical and analytical skills.
  5. From my experience, 50% of students score about equally on the two tests, 25% score relatively higher on the SAT, and 25% score relatively higher on the ACT. There is a conversion chart that can be found here that will show which score is relatively higher: http://www.act.org/aap/concordance/pdf/reference.pdf

    This chart compares overall SAT to ACT as well as SAT Math+Reading to ACT (sincemany schools give a stronger weighting to the Math+Reading on the SAT). If students are really on the fence about the two tests and wanting to devote a large amount of prep time to one, I recommend taking a free practice test first and then comparing the scores to see if one test is better. Several practice tests are linked at the website address below.

RK Test Prep Resources

The information and opinions expressed on this blog are those of Rick Koshgerian and are in no way affiliated with the College Board or the ACT.