60% more likely to do better on the ACT
The ACT and SAT exams differ in the format of the test and also in some of the academic content. If you are a high school student, your best chance to increase your exam score is for you to take the same test multiple times. In order to achieve this, it is critical for you to focus your effort on the one exam that aligns best with your academic strong points.
Here's why you should take the ACT:
70% more likely to do better on the ACT
80% more likely to do better on the ACT
90% more likely to do better on the ACT
60% more likely to do better on the SAT
Here's why you should take the SAT:
70% more likely to do better on the SAT
80% more likely to do better on the SAT
90% more likely to do better on the SAT
You are usually one of the first to finish a test
Explanation: The SAT Reading sections give you 65 minutes to complete the 52 questions, which is 75 seconds per question. The ACT Reading has 40 questions in 35 minutes, which gives you just 52 seconds per question. If you are good at working quickly and have strong time management on tests, you have an advantage on the ACT.
You prefer reading and writing vs. math
Explanation: Students that are stronger in the areas of reading and writing tend to do better on the ACT. On the ACT, the math sections account for only one-fourth of your total ACT score (your score in the Math section is averaged with the other three section scores). This means that your reading and writing strength have a much bigger impact on the ACT than the SAT.
You are comfortable with science questions
Explanation: If you like science then you have an advantage on the ACT since the ACT includes science questions and the SAT does not. Even though true science knowledge doesn’t seem to be necessary, a comfort with science questions provides an advantage for you on the ACT.
You are good at English grammar
Explanation: The ACT has a heavier emphasis on English grammar than the SAT. Having a strong understanding of grammar and punctuation rules gives you an advantage on the ACT that you won’t have on the SAT.
You would be willing to have less time per math problem, if you get to use a calculator
Explanation: If you like to be able to use a calculator on all math problems, then the ACT exam is for you. The ACT allows a calculator on all math problems. The SAT only allows a calculator on some sections. As a result, if you struggle with solving math quickly without a calculator, you'd probably fare better on ACT Math than you would on SAT Math.
You have studied Trigonometry
Explanation: The ACT has Trigonometry questions in the math section, while the SAT does not. If you have taken Trigonometry, then you will have an obvious advantage on those questions.
You go to a parochial high school
Explanation: There has been talk amongst college admission counselors that the ACT is a better fit for parochial high school students. Now there seems to be solid data supporting that view especially if you go to a Catholic school.
ACT Score SAT Range
This data doesn't guarantee that every parochial student will do better on the ACT than the SAT, but it does indicate that on average a parochial student is much more likely do better on the ACT.
You prefer more Geometry
Explanation: The SAT exam has more algebra. The ACT exam has more geometry. If you prefer geometry over algebra, then you are going to like the math sections on the ACT more than the SAT.
You feel that your vocabulary is a little weak
Explanation: The ACT does not have a section that directly tests you on vocabulary words. The only vocabulary you will get is woven in the reading passages of the ACT. Even the ACT exam questions that test your understanding of the passages typically use easier level vocabulary. If you are worried about your vocabulary comprehension, then the ACT is a better fit for you.
You don’t like to read a passage and then cite evidence from the text that supports the author's argument
Explanation: Evidence-supported questions are a significant part of SAT Reading section, but don't appear on the ACT. If you don’t like finding key parts of a text to support a view point, then the ACT will allow you to avoid that.
You like to provide your opinion in an essay
Explanation: For the ACT essay you will read a passage about an issue and then analyze the different points of the issue. What is different about the SAT and ACT is that on the ACT you will also provide your own opinion about the issue. If you are good at comparing and contrasting different perspectives on an issue as well as providing evidence to reinforce your opinion, then the ACT Writing section is a good fit for you.
You are planning to take the exam at least three times
Explanation: If you plan to take the exam at least three times, then you are likely better off to focus on the ACT. Data has shown that students that take the ACT at least four times on average increase their ACT score by 2.5 points over their first test score. There likely is not much benefit in taking the ACT exam more than four times because even students that take the ACT a full ten times only increase their total score by an average 2.9 points over their first score.
The state you live in requires the ACT exam to be given to all high school students
There are fourteen states in the U.S. that require high schools to give students the ACT exam. If you live in a state that requires your school to give the ACT, then it is most likely optimal for you to continue to take the ACT exam. The more comfortable you are with the ACT exam, the better you will do on it. Additionally, your state uses the ACT exam results to evaluate your school, so your teachers will try to prepare you to do well on the ACT.
You need a little more time on each question
Explanation: The SAT Reading sections have 52 questions and 65 minutes to complete them, giving you 75 seconds per question. The ACT Reading has 40 questions in 35 minutes, which gives you just 52 seconds per question to complete them. Students that don’t work quickly and need a little more time on each question tend to do better on the SAT.
You prefer math vs. reading and writing
You are not comfortable with science questions
You are not very good at English grammar
Explanation: The ACT generally has a greater emphasis on English grammar than the SAT. If you feel that grammar and punctuation is not one of your strengths, then you are likely better off taking the SAT.
You are good at doing math without a calculator
Explanation: The SAT has a section of the exam where students are not allowed to use a calculator. This represents about 1/3 of the math questions on the exam. If you are good at doing math without a calculator, then you will have an advantage on the SAT.
You have not learned Trigonometry
Explanation: The SAT does not test you on Trigonometry, but the ACT does. If you have not studied Trigonometry, then you will likely do better on the math section of the SAT.
You prefer more Algebra
Explanation: The SAT has more algebra. The ACT has more geometry. If you prefer algebra over geometry, then you will likely do better on the SAT.
You have a strong vocabulary
Explanation: If you have a strong vocabulary, then the SAT is likely a good match for you. The Critical Reading section has vocabulary words inserted into the passages. Also, the SAT Sentence Completion questions are entirely a test of vocabulary. The SAT Sentence Completion questions usually progress in difficulty. The first few questions are generally easy and then become more challenging. There are plenty of resources that provide a list of past SAT vocabulary words, to give you a taste of the type of vocabulary on the exam. If you feel pretty comfortable with the tougher vocabulary words in these lists, then you will do well on this section of the SAT.
You are good at reading a passage and then citing evidence from the text that supports the author's argument
When writing an essay, you prefer to dissect the author’s argument instead of offering your own opinion
You are planning to take the exam once or twice
Explanation: If you are planning to take the exam just once, then you are likely going to do better on the SAT, especially if you are taking the exam for the first time after 11th grade or if you took the PSAT test. For students that take the SAT a second time, just over 50% improve their score and less than 20% do worse.
You live in a state which requires high schools to offer the SAT exam to students
If you live in a state that requires your high school to give all students the SAT exam, then it is likely better for you to continue to take the SAT exam. The more familiar you are with taking the exam, the better you will do on it. Additionally, the schools are evaluated on how you and your classmates perform on the exam, so they will best help you prepare for the SAT.