Since the 2016 redesign of the SAT, the ACT and SAT are more similar now than ever before. But while the two exams have similar features, they do still differ enough that your choice of which to take matters. When I’m working with a student who’s deciding between the SAT and ACT, I suggest they take a timed practice test of both the exams. That’s the best way to decide which one is right for them. If you don't want to do that, here are some other ways you can determine which test is the best choice.
How to decide between the SAT and ACT
Here are three key academic weak or strong points you should consider about yourself to help you decide which standardized test to take.
- If you struggle with math, the SAT is probably better for you because the test provides formulas. For the ACT, you must memorize the formulas and remember when they should be applied.
- If you have a strong science background, take the ACT because it has a section devoted to science-based questions. The SAT doesn’t offer a Science section at all, so your knowledge and skills would go to waste in regard to the tests.
- If you have strong reading comprehension skills, the SAT might be better. The SAT gives you more time on the Reading section, but the required reading level tends to be higher. Students with good analysis skills should take the SAT. However, if you can read quickly and still understand the material, the ACT might be the better option.
Free test prep resources for students
Taking in-person or online tutoring courses can be expensive, and they aren’t right for every student. Luckily, there’s a multitude of free and high-quality test prep sites available that can aid students without the hefty price tag. Here’s a roundup of the best free resources for studying for the ACT or SAT.
The College Board
If you’re studying for the SAT, you’ve likely heard of the College Board, as it’s the company that created and administers the SAT. You’ll have to visit their website to register for the test (as well as AP exams). As you start to prepare for the SAT, you should first spend some time on the College Board website to learn about the overall format of the test and skills you’ll need. It evenbreaks down the types of questions you’ll see on the SAT and what they’re measuring.
Not only is it a treasure trove for practice questions for the Reading, Writing and Language, and Math sections, but it also has full-length official practice tests. These practice exams are the best way to estimate your SAT score because six of the practice exams have been given previously as the actual exams. Study these carefully and make sure to spend time analyzing your errors.
When preparing for the ACT, you’ll want to go right to the source and check out the free resources the test creators offer. ACT Academy makes learning fun and will create a personalized study plan for you to follow. The site features videos, practice questions, and full-length exams to help you reach your target score. They also have live and on-demand webinars so you can learn more about the test from the experts.
Khan Academy is another fantastic free resource that helps you target your test errors. It has an SAT prep program that diagnoses your current level and walks you through practice questions to help you work on your weaknesses. Khan Academy collaborated with the College Board to create the prep program, so you can rest assured it’s a reliable resource to use. When you first sign up, you’ll be required to take a few diagnostic tests to develop a customized approach with targeted question types to help you improve. With video and written explanations, you can use whatever method is best for your learning style.
Despite the name, CrackSAT provides students with both SAT and ACT prep material. It has hundreds of practice examples for each section of either test as well as the answer keys. You’ll find that the site has a lot of old SAT practice exams as well, which can still be useful to help you develop your strategies for maximizing your score on the SAT or ACT.
Kaplan SAT and ACT YouTube Channel
Some students prefer to watch videos rather than reading standardized prep tips, as it helps them remember strategies and facts better. If this sounds like you, then check out Kaplan’s SAT and ACT YouTube channel. They have videos targeting trickier practice questions as well as general tips for both the SAT and ACT. And while Kaplan is mainly a paid test prep service, they do offer some free live webinars and classes for both the ACT and SAT on a monthly basis.
Free SAT Math
For those who struggle with the Math section on the SAT, Free SAT Math should be your go-to resource! This website focuses just on that section to really help you dig deep into the math formulas and concepts you’ll need on test day. Plus, the sample questions have hints if you get stuck.
Magoosh is a great tool because it has flashcards to help you learn vocabulary, explanations to SAT practice test questions, study schedules, and YouTube videos. This is also one of the few free resources where you can find both SAT and ACT assistance and practice on their website. In fact, these websites may even help you make that final decision on which test to take.
Standardized tests are still a big part of college admission, even with test-optional policies in effect. If you’re planning on sending in scores, be sure you give it some real thought about which test will be better for you. And when you decide, use these awesome free resources and you’re sure to get a great score on test day. Good luck!