The chart below shows you a side by side comparison of the two tests. The best way to choose between the SAT and the ACT is to take a full practice test for each exam. Each test presents unique challenges and one may suit your child better than the other.
WE RECOMMEND THAT YOU ALWAYS SIGN UP FOR THE ACT WITH WRITING AND THE SAT ESSAY.
Both tests now have no guessing penalty, so always guess!
ACT English is similar to SAT writing. Both require the careful application of grammar and punctuation rules. These are coachable, so we expect SAT writing/ACT English scores to improve with practice. Students also need to learn editing strategies, such as when and where to add a sentence, paragraph order, and primary purpose.
SAT Reading, particularly the historical document passage, is more challenging than ACT reading. Students will encounter unfamiliar vocabulary on the SAT. ACT Reading is more detail-oriented and less focused on the big picture. However, it is faster (one passage and 10 questions every 8 ½ minutes) and will present considerable difficulty to slow readers.
SAT Math has a no calculator section that can be daunting for calculator-dependent students. The math focuses on algebra and word problems. Some questions present tables and graphs and other practical math concepts. The ACT covers a wider range of mathematical topics but does so more directly and with less nuance.
The ACT has a science section that requires the interpretation of charts, graphs, and tables under time pressure.
The SAT ESSAY is optional but required by some colleges. Students must read a long argument and analyze how the author uses rhetorical devices (appeal to emotion, irony, language) to persuade the reader.
The ACT ESSAY presents three perspectives on a topic and asks the student to take a position on an issue and support it with evidence.
The SAT and ACT essays are optional, but we recommend choosing to do the essay. We do not want you to unexpectedly discover that you need the essay as you are completing your college applications.