Which test should your child take?

Choosing the right test is an important decision. Your child’s SAT® or ACT® score will count for at least 25% of their college application. We’ve been preparing students for their college admissions tests since 2002, and we’ve found that there’s one surefire way to make sure you choose the right test.

Choose between the SAT® and ACT®

All U.S. colleges accept both tests, and colleges do not prefer the SAT® over the ACT® (or vice versa).

So, what is the best way to choose between the SAT® and ACT®?

Take a practice test for each exam. The tests are structured and scored differently, and these differences have an impact on the overall experience of taking the test. Each test has its own unique challenges, and your child may be more successful on one test than on the other. Since colleges do not have a preference for either test, the choice is simple: choose the higher score.

We’ve put together a side-by-side comparison for you, but there’s no replacement for taking both tests and seeing how your child scores.

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Choose between the SAT® and ACT®

Total testing time 3 hours 3 hours 55 minutes
Science section No Yes
Trigonometry Yes Yes
Essay Only available in states where the essay is required as part of SAT School Day administrations. Optional
Guessing penalty No No
Weight of math section 50% 25%
Calculator usage Allowed on some Math questions Allowed on all Math questions
Biggest challenge Deeper content knowledge Time crunch
Experimental section Yes Yes


Does your child...

  • ...score especially well in math.
  • ...identify tricky questions well?
  • ...tend to need the full amount of time during tests?


Does your child...

  • ...score especially well in reading and English.
  • ...get tripped up on tricky questions?
  • ...tend to finish tests quickly?


Q Which test is more popular?

A In 2014, approximately 1.67 million students took the SAT® and 1.84 million students took the ACT®. The ACT® has been slightly more popular nationwide since 2013, however, there are still some regional differences. The SAT® remains more popular on the West Caost and in the Northeastern United States, while the ACT® is more popular in the Midwestern and Southern United States.

Q Is one test easier than the other?

A The ACT® and the SAT® assess similar academic concepts with subtle differences in the way questions are asked. They differ slightly in their foci and the amount of time that students have to solve each individual question.

Approximately 20% of students will naturally perform better on one of the two tests.

We recommend that all students take both tests before their junior year to see if they excel more on the SAT® or ACT®.

Q Is it true that Ivy League schools prefer the SAT®?

A No. In the past that may have been true, but now there is no preference for one test over the other. All U.S. four-year colleges that require an admissions test now accept both exams.

Q If I take the ACT® do I still need to take SAT® Subject Tests?

A This requirement varies from college to college. Some colleges require SAT Subject Tests even if you take the ACT®, while some colleges waive the SAT® Subject Test requirement if you take the ACT®, and some colleges do not require SAT® Subject Tests at all. Be sure to check with the admissions office for each college you plan on applying to.

Q How can I compare my SAT® and ACT® scores?

A ACT® and College Board have both released concordance tables to compare SAT® and ACT® scores.

Concordance tables:

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