Last Updated: Oct 15, 2020
Stephen A. Johnson
Bright Minds Tutoring Inc.
Many students agonize over whether to take the SAT or the ACT. One “solution” to this problem is taking both, right? Wrong! The tests do overlap somewhat, but the differences in how to approach each test are different enough that I’d never recommend that you prep for and take both exams. Instead, hold off on choosing and preparing until you’ve explored both tests.
I believe that the only way to really make an informed decision as to which test is a better fit for you is to take a full-length diagnostic exam for both the ACT and the SAT before doing any prep. Once you have experienced both tests and received (or tabulated) your scores, you will have a much better sense of the nuances of each test and be a better judge of which test you prefer based upon ease and your score. Ease? Yes, you should definitely choose the test that seems “easiest” to you before you’ve studied (assuming you did at least as good if not better on the “easier” test).
Say you took practice versions of both tests and got a 19 on the ACT and 1130 on the SAT. There are plenty of ACT-SAT score equivalency tables out there that you can use to compare your scores from both tests. According to this ACT-SAT score comparison chart, your ACT score of 19 is roughly equivalent to an SAT score of 990–1020. Anything over a 100-point difference is significant, and the fact that you scored 1130 on the practice SAT, up to 140 points higher than your ACT score, might indicate there's something about the format and content of the SAT that suits you better. In this case I would recommend that you take the SAT.
If, however, your scores on both exams do not differ significantly, as is sometimes the case, you will have to rely on your general feelings about each test. If this proves too difficult, talk to your friends and peers, college counselors, teachers who know you well, and other professionals who can help you make the decision. Once you have made a decision, do your best to stick with it. The other and perhaps most important variable in successfully reaching your goal score on either test is time. Given the right amount of time, you can master either test. So, the earlier you get started and the earlier you decide the better.
My philosophy is that prepping for these tests is like climbing a mountain. At the top of the mountain is the score you are aiming for, which will lead to you being a competitive applicant at your top-choice college or university. Your diagnostic score indicates your starting point for your ascent up this mountain. Do yourself a favor and choose the test that has you start closer to the top.