As college and university consultants, we are often asked which test is best — and the answer to that question is not always an easy one to answer. Obviously, you should take the test that plays to your strengths, and to help you figure that out, here’s a breakdown:
SAT Sections and Timing
- Reading: 65 minutes; 52 questions (75 seconds per question)
- Writing & Language: 35 minutes; 44 questions (83 seconds per question)
- Math: 80 minutes; 58 questions (83 seconds per question)
ACT Sections and Timing
- Reading: 35 minutes; 40 questions (52.5 seconds per question)
- English: 45 minutes; 75 questions (36 seconds per question)
- Math: 60 minutes; 60 questions (60 seconds per question)
- Science: 35 minutes; 40 questions (52.5 seconds per question)
Your job is to determine which test is going to make you more competitive in the eyes of admissions officers.
At first glance, it appears that the SAT is easier, but it is very important that you remember these admissions tests are graded on a curve. This means that your score is determined by comparing your performance against that of the other test takers. So, while the SAT may be “easier”, it is easier for everyone who takes it. And since the ACT is harder for everyone who takes it, this is something you can use to your advantage.
If you are able to work quickly and excel in science reasoning, then taking the ACT will probably give you a huge advantage over your competition. If, on the other hand, you prefer to take your time and think through your answers, the SAT is likely the better option.
So what now? Should you take the ACT or the SAT? I suggest starting by taking complete, timed practice tests for both of them. Then you can consider which test you prefer and perform better on.
It is important that you are done with your testing by the start of your senior year so that you can focus on maintaining your grades and extracurriculars while dedicating yourself to your applications. The last thing you need is a stressful test weighing on you. And — should you perform poorly on the test you choose — you will have time to retest if necessary.