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.

Get started with a free practice exam for each test

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Choose between the SAT and ACT

  SAT ACT
Time to complete 3 hours 45 minutes 3 hours 25 minutes
Science section No Yes
Trigonometry No Yes
Essay Mandatory Optional
Guessing penalty Yes No
Weight of math section 33% 25%
Question difficulty Progressive Random
Biggest challenge Tricky questions Time crunch

SAT

Does your child...

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

ACT

Does your child...

  • ...prefer not to write an essay?
  • ...excel in science and trigonometry?
  • ...get tripped up on tricky questions?
  • ...tend to finish tests quickly?

SAT vs ACT FAQ

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 coast and in the northeast United States, while the ACT is more popular in the midwest and southern U.S.


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 focuses 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 the end of 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 now preference for one test over the other. All U.S. four year colleges that require a admissions tests now accept both exams, and there is not a preference for one exam over the other.


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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