The SAT or ACT? Which Should Your Child Take?

Universities and colleges accept both the SAT and the ACT examination results. So there’s no reason to favor one over the other for that reason. However, there are some differences that may be important to your child.

In certain parts of the U.S. the SAT or the ACT is more popular. However, the reason to choose one over the other is really up to your child, what they are strong in, and what they are interested in studying.

The SAT vs. the ACT

1. SAT test has more sections

The SAT has three separate content areas: Evidence-based reading and writing, math, and an optional essay that is scored separately.

2. The ACT has five main sections covering the following topics:

• Reading
• Science
• Math
• English
• Essay (optional)

3. ACT questions are straightforward and easier to read

SAT questions requires your student to spend time determining what’s being asked before answering the question.

After March 2016 there is no longer a penalty for wrong answers on the SAT.

4. ACT has a science section

The SAT exam doesn’t have a science section. If your student is going into a math or science major, you may want to choose the ACT. Keep in mind, ACT’s science test is based on reading and reasoning skills, not chemicals and compounds.

5. Both the SAT and the ACT have an optional writing portion

For both the ACT and the SAT the essay portion is optional. Your student can opt out on testing day. If your student does decide to complete the ACT writing portion, he'll spend 40 minutes writing the essay answer. His writing score won’t be included in his composite score.

Check with colleges and universities where your student is applying. Some of them require prospective students to take the writing portion.

6. ACT tests more advanced math concepts that the SAT

Algebra I and II, basic arithmetic and geometry are all included on the ACT test. It also includes trigonometry. This doesn’t mean the test is harder. It includes more advanced math questions.


7. College admissions officers look at SAT and ACT differently

College admission officers will consider how well your student did on each section of the SAT exam. They will look at the composite score of your student’s ACT test.

Tips on Deciding 

Have your child take both practice examinations. Summer is usually the best time of year to take each practice test. Next, compare scores from the two examinations. This will help you choose which test to focus on.

Some students decide to take both tests. This can be a good way to cover your bases, but may be more stressful for your child.

A new SAT was released March 2016. The highest score students can receive is 1600.

The highest score your student can receive on the ACT is 36. 

Looking for a flexible, affordable test-prep program for your student? Consider Magoosh.