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SAT or ACT: Which Exam is for you?

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One difficult choice for many high school juniors and seniors is deciding whether to write the SAT or the ACT. This is an important choice, because the two tests are fundamentally different, which can have a considerable effect on the final score of a student. In addition, since the vast majority of schools in the United States now accept both the SAT and the ACT, it can be highly beneficial to select the one most suited to your skills and talents. It is important to confirm that the school of your choice accepts both tests, in order to ensure that your result will be accepted and your application will be properly considered.

How are the Exams Different?

Many admissions officers and educators will say that the biggest difference between the two exams is that the ACT places a greater emphasis on testing material that is directly from the school curriculum. The SAT, on the other hand, emphasizes critical thinking and problem solving skills. This comparison is not entirely accurate though, as the SAT still requires considerable knowledge of the high school curriculum in mathematics and English, and the ACT does also test critical thinking skills. The key differences are actually in what material is tested, and what knowledge is most highly valued.

The key differences between the two exams are:

  • The ACT contains a science reasoning section, while the SAT does not.
  • The SAT places a much greater emphasis on knowledge of vocabulary, which is not present in the ACT.
  • The ACT mathematics section requires that the student know basic trigonometry, which is not required for the SAT.
  • The SAT has a mandatory essay, which is included as part of the main writing section, while the essay for the ACT is optional.
 The Right One for You

So what do these differences mean for a high school student deciding which test to write? Well, one of the main differences between the two tests is the vocabulary emphasis in the SAT. If you are not comfortable with the SAT vocabulary, the ACT is probably a better choice, since learning vocabulary is a difficult and tedious task. The ACT also contains a science reasoning section, which is essentially more reading comprehension, as no real knowledge of science is required. Any required information is provided in the piece of writing, which makes answering questions possible even with only a basic knowledge of science topics. For someone with a solid grounding in physics, chemistry, and biology, this section is quite simple, so strong science students should favour the ACT. Another important difference is that the essay on the ACT is optional, although it is required by many colleges. If you plan on attending a college that does not require the essay, and you feel that writing the essay would hurt your score, the ACT is the better test to write.


Since there are a considerable number of differences between the two tests, the only way to decide which one to write is to compare your strengths to the areas emphasized on each test. This will ensure that you pick the one that will be most advantageous.

This article was written for you by Tobias, one of the tutors with Test Prep Academy.

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