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The ACT, the SAT, or Both?

If you just started your junior or senior year of high school, then you have a lot of big decisions coming up in your life! In addition to all your tough classes and rewarding extra curricular activities, you have to juggle the college admissions process. After your high school transcript and personal essays, test scores are the final big piece of the college admissions puzzle. So how can you get the score that will get you into your dream school?

The big decision to make is whether you are going to submit ACT scores, SAT scores, or both. First, check out the requirements of the colleges you will be applying to. Many schools only require that you submit either an ACT or an SAT score, but some are still strict about which one they prefer.

If the choice is yours, then you can consider which test is more suited to your style of thinking and test-taking. Putting some time into deciding which test to take will pay off when you get your highest possible score; there are some big differences between the tests.

  1. Subject Areas (not including writing): the SAT only has two key subject areas- quantitative and verbal- whereas the ACT is divided into four sections- reading, English, science and math. The ACT reading and English sections combined basically equal the SAT verbal section, but the SAT is more focused on vocabulary. There is nothing like the ACT science section on the SAT; ACT science doesn't demand any prior scientific knowledge, rather it tests students on their ability to read graphs, charts and tables.  So, what that boils down to is that there are more math and vocabulary questions on the SAT, whereas the ACT is more about reading comprehension in a variety of contexts. If you are better at memorizing things like mathematical formulas and the definitions of words, take the SAT. If you are more analytic, take the ACT.
  2. Section Break-Down:  since the ACT is divided among four subjects, it is broken down into four long sections, each of which is dedicated to one subject. Since the SAT only has two core subjects, it is broken up into many smaller sections. The sections tend to alternate between quantitative and verbal over the course of the test.

So, maybe you want to choose your test based on your attention span. If you focus well for long periods of time, then the ACT will be better for you. But if you like to work on different things and switch around to keep your mind fresh, then the SAT is good for you.

Those are the biggest differences, but if you're still not sure there's an easy solution. Take a practice test for each and see which feels more comfortable. You may choose the one that you initially score higher on, or you may feel that one is more suited to your style and will be better after your studying is done.

And, if you are able to do equally well on both, demonstrating that to schools will definitely work in your favor!