ACT or SAT: Which Standardized Test Should I Take?

Last updated Feb 5, 2021 

act-or-sat-which-should-i-take.jpgThere are many choices you will need to make during the college application process. Which test should you take? How many times should you take it? What should you say in your application essays? How many colleges should you apply to? Should you stay local or go to a college some distance away? What major should you declare?

Let’s start with the first question. ACT or SAT: which standardized test should I take?

In a 2012 article in the Washington Post, Valerie Strauss writes, “The ACT has for the first time overtaken the SAT as the most popular college admissions exam by a margin of a few thousand students.”  Strauss quotes Bob Schaeffer, who runs the National Center for Fair and Open Testing. Schaeffer believes that the ACT is more “consumer-friendly” than the SAT, or at least students and parents see it as so. However some of the features that led Schaeffer to apply this label in 2012 have changed. For example, the SAT, like the ACT, now allows test-takers to guess without penalties for wrong answers. Furthermore, some of Schaeffer’s examples have nothing to do with test content. He explains that several states use the ACT “as a replacement for (or supplement to) high school exit exams.”  Students are not required to pay for the test or go to unfamiliar test centers on their own time—major advantages!

What, if anything, has changed since 2012?

An article by Adam Ingersoll from November 2016 (“Who Should Choose the SAT Over the More Popular ACT? What If Practice Test Scores Are Inconclusive?”) states that students surveyed by Compass Education Group preferred the ACT over the SAT by 8 to 1. This is a much bigger gap than that reported in 2012, when preferences were so close as to be nearly evenly split. Why the change?

Ingersoll explains that the shift “may have been an overreaction” to the fear that changes in the SAT would make the test more difficult and intimidating. He predicts that the pendulum could quite possibly swing back as students realize that the new SAT is not so scary after all.

Ingersoll does a good job of comparing the two tests. Some of the aspects he looks at are differences in time management requirements, calculator use, and scheduling. For example, he points out that while the 35 minutes allotted to the ACT Reading sections can make students feel rushed, the longer SAT Reading section lasting 65 minutes is often grueling.

For those who prefer their information presented graphically, a map indicating which test is more popular in each state can be found on Wikipedia. You can also click here for a table comparing the key differences between the ACT and SAT exams.

In the end, the best advice may be that offered by Adam Ingersoll: Do your research and make a choice. The worst situation, in his opinion, is when students engage in “a protracted engagement with both tests rather than focusing on just one.” He recommends “practice test review and thoughtful analysis” before focusing on the test you feel most comfortable with.

A+ Test Prep and Tutoring can help you decide which test best fits your strengths. We offer free proctored ACT and SAT practice tests and provide comprehensive score reports to help you compare your scores across the two tests.

We will also work with you to create a customized test-prep game plan and match you with knowledgeable, trained tutors who work with you to attain your “personal best” score.

If you would like more information, our Client Service Directors Anne Stanley and Susan Ware are available to answer questions and provide solutions. You may reach either of them by calling A+ Test Prep and Tutoring at 215-886-9188.

Photo credit: CollegeDegrees360




What They're Saying

Contact Us


A+ Test Prep and Tutoring -- Philadelphia

505 York Road, Suite 6, Jenkintown PA 19046

A+ Test Prep and Tutoring -- Montgomeryville

593-1 Bethlehem Pike, Unit #4, Montgomeryville PA 18936

A+ Test Prep and Tutoring -- Center City

419 S 19th Street

Philadelphia, PA 19146