You already know test preparation is essential for scoring the highest possible scores on your college entrance exams, but many students don’t feel they have the time to adequately prepare for both the ACT and SAT exams.
While you could prepare for both tests, take both tests and then submit the scores from your best exam, this is very time consuming (and can get expensive.) Instead you’ll probably want to choose one test, prepare thoroughly for the exam, and then take that one test. If you don’t score as well as you had hoped to score, you can always study more and retake the test until you get a score with which you are satisfied.
But how do you choose between the ACT and SAT? Is there anyway to predict which test you’ll score best on? Lucky for you, the answer is yes, there is a way to tell which test you’ll score best on, before you invest any money at all.
Consider Your Natural Aptitude
Do the tests favor certain skill sets or types of intelligence? You bet your bottom dollar they do!
The ACT is reputed to be more curriculum-based and to evaluate how well you have learned material taught in school. The SAT is reputed to be more of an evaluation of your critical thinking skills and your ability to identify and tackle problems (problem solving.)
The ACT seems to highlight the knowledge of those who have taken advanced classes in math and science, where as the SAT seems to favor students that have excellent verbal and reasoning skills.
So… which test will highlight your strengths? Are you an excellent debater, but haven’t taken advanced math classes and want to avoid trigonometry in particular? Then you’ll want to take the SAT. Are you a math whiz who dreads explaining the why behind the how you came to the answer on the page? Do you excel with punctuation and grammar, but have a limited vocabulary? Then you’ll probably do better on the ACT.
Which Test Will Try Your Patience More?
If you love puzzles, riddles and tricky questions, the SAT is right for you. If you want the questions to be more straight forward and obvious, you’ll want to take the ACT.
The SAT also takes longer (the test is 3 hours and 45 minutes long) whereas the ACT is over in 2 hours and 55 minutes. (Although you may have to take the writing test along with the ACT – check with the colleges of your choice – many do not require it. If you take the writing test, you’ll add another 30 minutes to the ACT, which still makes it shorter than the SAT.)
Likewise, if you’re one of those bright kids who never needs to study and who catches on to new ideas quickly, you’ll excel more on the SAT. If you’re a by-the-book studier who gets great grades because you work for them and study material meticulously, you’ll shine on the ACT.
Does Gender Matter?
There’s a slight statistical chance that you will perform better on the SAT if you are male and ACT if you are female, but the gap is so slim that this isn’t the best way to decide which test to take.
Try Them Both Ahead of Time
Want to know for sure which test is more suited to your aptitude? Then you’ll need to try both tests and compare your scores.
Most schools will give predictive tests, such as the PSAT or the PLAN, during your sophomore year. If possible, take both tests and see how you score on them respectively. If you score higher on the PSAT, you’ll want to prepare for the SAT. If you scored higher on the PLAN, you’ll want to prepare for the ACT.
You can also take full-length sample tests online for free, which may help you determine which test seems to suit you better. The tests have different styles and formats, and you may favor one test style significantly over the other. It’s a good idea to give both samples a whirl before the big test day arrives.
Make Sure the Colleges of Your Choice Accept Both Exams
Most colleges and universities accept both tests, but some do express a preference (or require you to take the writing portion of the ACT.)
Prepare Adequately for the Test
Perhaps the most important part of this is your devotion to test preparation. It won’t matter which test you take if you don’t take practice exams. For the best results, try to mimic the exact exam set up, timing yourself and giving yourself the same breaks you will get while taking the official test. This will prepare you mentally for the actual exam date and will give you the best opportunity to perform well.