Choosing Between the ACT and SAT


Choosing between the ACT and SAT can be a daunting task. You have to take into consideration factors such as which tests are preferred by the school you are applying to, which test is a better fit for your skills, and whether both tests are available in your area. Below is a breakdown of the basics of both the ACT and SAT to help you better understand each test so you can make a more educated decision as to which test is a better fit for you.


The ACT tests students on their overall educational development in high school and ability to succeed with college-level work. It covers four subjects: English, Math, Reading, and Science. It also includes an optional essay section. Each section has a set time limit so test takers must be able to perform well and feel comfortable under those limits. The test is timed at 2 hours and 55 minutes without the essay and 3 hours and 40 minutes with it. The overall composite score of the test ranges from 1-36 (source). The registration fee for the ACT is $42.50 without the writing section and $58.50 with the writing section (source). Included with both fees are reports for you, your high school, and up to 4 different colleges.


In the spring of 2016, the SAT went through some major changes (source). It now has two required sections: evidence-based reading and writing, and math. One of the biggest changes is that the SAT no longer penalizes for guessing, so make sure to fill out every question, even if you are not 100 percent sure of the answer. The SAT is also timed, taking 3 hours without the essay section and 3 hours and 50 minutes with the essay. The scale for the score is now 400-1600 (source). The cost of taking the SAT is $45 unless you include the essay section, which makes it $57.


The ACT might be a good fit for you if you work well under time pressures. There is generally less time per question on the ACT than the SAT so you will need to be able to work quickly. However, the questions on the ACT are usually more content-based and determine your academic readiness for college. If you can quickly recall facts that you’ve learned throughout your education, the ACT may be for you (source).

The SAT might be best for you if you’re better at combining information and analyzing real world problems. You will have more time per question, but the questions usually take longer to work through and have more parts. If you’re a slower reader, like to take extra time to really think through questions, or are better at analyzing and combining information, the SAT may be your best option.

Considering taking both tests?

If you are not quite sure which test best matches your needs, you can consider taking both. This is certainly not a requirement but can create more opportunities than just taking one. Most schools only require one of the tests. If you are applying to a more prestigious school, having both scores to send with your application could give you an extra needed edge. The more information you have that proves your educational skills and work ethic, the better. If you end up getting a lower grade than you had hoped for one test, having another test score will be very helpful. It definitely takes more time to study and prepare for both tests but may be well worth the effort.

For both tests, remember to arrive at the testing center with the appropriate materials: photo ID, sharpened #2 pencils (no pens or mechanical pencils are permitted), and an approved calculator for the math sections. Dress comfortably and bring layers in case the testing room is cooler than is comfortable for you. You may bring snacks and drinks but will most likely have to leave them outside of the testing room and will only be allowed to access them during designated breaks. Make sure you get a good night’s rest and be at the testing center at least a half an hour before the test begins.

Now that you’ve got the basic information, good luck! Remember that there are plenty of study materials for both tests; there are practice questions on the internet, study materials at your local library, or even tutors that are specifically trained to help with the SAT and/or ACT. One option for preparing to take the ACT test is to attend the ACT and College prep camp offered at BYU. For more information, click here.