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ACT vs. SAT: Should You Prep for Both?

May 07, 2012 By: Category: College entrance exams, Get into College

It’s ironic that the ACT (American College Testing) exam was created back in 1959 by a group of educators who hoped that it would replace the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) because it would be better.  But like a lot of things intended to make life better for students, the test actually made things a bit worse, because now most students take both tests and submit the results of the one that makes them look stronger.

Actually, taking both tests just to see how well you do is not a bad strategy. But when you look at the ACT vs. SAT question, you discover that you really could be likely to score better on one test than on the other. Each test favors certain types of test-takers and here’s a quick rundown of how the tests differ:

photo by cheese roc


  • There is a science section on the ACT, but not on the SAT. It’s true that you will get science-related reading passages on the SAT, but they are designed to test your reading comprehension, not your science chops. So if you’re a future nuclear physicist, you might achieve a nice fat science score on the ACT. Do be aware however, that the science section on the ACT is a reasoning section that provides information and then asks you questions about it. In theory, you can’t be tested about subject matter that you already knew prior to taking the test.
  • Certain colleges have decided to require the writing section of the ACT for all students who take the test, others have decided not to. This makes it even harder to decide which test to take. But the official ACT website offers a handy tool that lets you enter the name of a college or university and find out whether it requires the writing section from all applicants who take the ACT. 
  • The questions are structured differently.  Since there are many differences, it is best for you to look at sample tests either in test-preparation books, or to look at sample ACT and sample SAT tests that are available online.  Take sample tests and see how well you do.

And here’s another option . . .

If you dislike standardized tests or are not great at taking them, a growing number of American colleges have decided to make both the SAT and ACT tests optional. You can find a list of those schools on the website of The National Center for Fair and Open Testing.

Barry Lenson writes and edits the blog for