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Should You Take the ACT, SAT or Both?


Being accepted into college is one of the happiest moments in your life. However, what some people may not see behind the tears of joy associated with receiving your college acceptance letter are the numerous hours you spent studying for the SAT or ACT ––or maybe even both. If you are currently preparing to take these tests or if you are just trying to plan ahead, read below for a guide on the best test to take to get into college.

Both tests are different

The SAT consists of reading, writing and language, math (with and without a calculator), and an optional essay. The ACT, on the other hand, consists of English, math, reading, science and an optional essay.

Neither test penalizes you for wrong answers, but you do get a little more time for the SAT ––three hours plus 50 minutes for the essay portion. During the ACT, you get two hours and 55 minutes of test-taking plus 40 additional minutes for the optional essay.

The SAT scores two sections; math and reading make up one section and writing and language make up the other. You can get a possible score ranging anywhere between 400 to 1600 points. The ACT scores all four sections individually on a scale from one to 36, where 36 would be the highest score possible.

Pros and cons of the SAT

As stated above, if you miss a question on the SAT, you will not be penalized. The test is also aimed at creating questions that have to do with the real world. Be warned, though--you can't use your calculator on every math question on the SAT (you can on the ACT!)

Nicole Harris, a student at the University of Connecticut only took the SAT. “I applied to state universities and was fine with just that test,” Nicole says. “As for the ACT, I didn’t feel like it was necessary for me to take it based on where I was applying and what major I wanted to go into.” This is the case for many other high school seniors applying to college.

Some cons of the SAT include interpreting graphs in the middle of a reading passage and wordy math questions that have you use critical reading skills.

Related: Should You Work With a College Counselor?

Pros and cons of the ACT

One of the major drawbacks of the ACT is that unlike the SAT, it has a science section. Regardless of if you consider yourself strong in this subject, it is still an added section to worry about. The section is more about scientific reasoning, though (can you interpret this science graph?) rather than cold hard chemistry facts, for instance. The ACT is taken in a shorter amount of time, but it asks more questions, giving you less time to review your answers. If you work well under pressure, the ACT may be the test for you. 

Students are not allowed to send the scores of individual sections to colleges because all of your scores are averaged together. However, the ACT doesn’t take off for wrong answers. 

Elaina Steingard, a student at the University of Missouri took the ACT and found that it was an accurate measure of her knowledge.““I would suggest taking the ACT over the SAT," Elaina says. "For me, I thought that it did better at covering basic understanding and important concepts.” She is not alone in this belief!

So, should you take both?

Tommy Rogers, a college recruiter for the University of Missouri, thinks that the ACT is more practical knowledge. “I personally liked the ACT better,” Tommy says. “It hit on more subjects we learned in high school and the scaling was fairer.” But, just because an expert suggests taking the ACT doesn’t mean that everyone would do better on that test. The SAT was changed this year to take a new approach to testing.

If you decide to take only one test, you are bound to save time and money ––but if you decide to take both, then you can have more of an option of what to send to certain schools. Check with the college admissions for each school you apply to and make sure you are taking the test that they accept because not all universities will take both.

The best thing you can do as a student is to take a practice test for each and then make a decision on the test to take. Don’t worry, it’ll all be worth it in the end!

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