The SAT or the ACT?

To take the SAT, the ACT, or both is the question. About a fifth of test takers show a preference. The best way to discover if you’re part of the fifth is by taking ACT’s PLAN and the PSAT sophomore year. If you’re a junior you might, instead, take Princeton Review’s free SAT-ACT diagnostic test.

A number of students, however, take both the SAT and ACT to cover any standardized test requirements. This might seem judicious, yet if a college believes that an applicant is too test oriented, it will begin to question what such a candidate will contribute outside the classroom.   

Virtually all college admissions offices will gladly take either the SAT or ACT test to fulfill their standardized testing requirements. Some of the most elite schools in the country, including Amherst College, Brown, Duke, Johns Hopkins, Pomona College, Tufts, University of Pennsylvania, and Vassar, will accept the ACT with Writing instead of the SAT and the SAT subject tests.

So which test should you take? OK, if you're applying to Harvard, Yale, Princeton, or the University of Rochester, you might elect to take the SAT. These admissions offices like to see SAT scores. Regardless, even if you submit only an ACT to any of them, they can easily convert your ACT score into a comparable SAT score.

The College Board itself issues an official 'ACT/SAT concordance chart,' downloadable at the College Board website. Then again, it is a fact that the SAT is rooted in the Ivy League: the original administration of the test in 1926 was to 8,026 Ivy League scholarship students. Regardless, however much you might want to cater to the whims of an admissions office, the standardized test you submit will, in virtually all cases, not sink or make your application. A 2220 on the SAT will not trump a 33 composite on the ACT.

The decision as to which test should more be a matter of personal preference. If you are good at taking high school classroom tests, then the ACT might be the better test for you. It is curriculum based; it attempts to measure your mastery of key high school skills. For example, in geometry, you were taught the 30-60-90 triangle. Be assured there will be a question about it on the ACT. The SAT, on the other hand, measures reasoning and logic. The ACT does not penalize guessing; the SAT does. The ACT has a separate science section; the SAT does not. The ACT math contains a bit of trigonometry; the SAT doesn't.

Whether you plan to take the SAT or ACT, the best guide to purchase for the SAT is the College Board’s ‘The Official SAT Study Guide’ which contains 10 release exams, and for the ACT,/  Peterson’s ’Real ACT Prep Guide’, which contains five released exams. Don’t waste your time reading their test taking strategies—just take the tests and review in detail what you got wrong and understand why. Only use real exams to study for the tests. What’s the point of using an interpretation of the test? It makes no sense

Take as many practice tests as possible. You need to get an intuitive sense of the pacing of the test. The ACT in particular requires rigorous pacing. The ACT contains 215 questions to be answered in 175 minutes. This comes to 49 seconds a question. A successful test taker needs to make such timing innate across all sections of the test.

Yet beyond the relative merits of the ACT and SAT, a lot of schools are opting out of the standardized tests altogether. Just go to to see the current list of over 800 colleges and universities that do not require students to submit standardized tests with their applications. So, what does all this add up to? Complete lack of uniformity among our colleges and constant questioning of the role of standardized tests in the admissions process. There are no right answers, just different approaches. You, in the end, are the final judge as to which serves your purposes best. This is the American postsecondary educational system and it shouldn't, and probably never will, be any other way.