ACT vs SAT: It’s Not A Chicken Or Egg Situation. 

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

High school students taking the SAT on paper

ACT vs SAT: It’s Not A Chicken Or Egg Situation.

You Can Choose.

Your life is your life – Charles Bukonski.

Does this make sense? Yes, it does. A high schooler or parents of a high schooler have one common dilemma across the globe when it comes to admissions tests – ACT vs SAT?

Most colleges in the US do not prefer one test over the other. Neither the SAT or ACT admissions test is harder than the other. Different students just tend to do better on one test over the other.

ACT and SAT both are widely accepted by most schools. And as a high school student, you always have a choice to choose between ACT vs. SAT. Nowadays, many students prepare for both. That’s their choice. We at AdmissionSight know every student is unique and has an individualistic persona with varying degrees of strengths and weaknesses. So, you make your choice depending upon the subjects you want to study in graduation, your interest, your preparation score, your analytical ability, your reasoning skills, your language skills, your reading skills and your writing skills and more.

the SAT written on an exam sheet

In 1959, ACT was created to challenge the dominance of The SAT college admissions testing. The ACT was less popular. But, the ACT has seen a gradual increase in the number of test-takers since its inception, The ACT took hold in the Midwest and the mountain states and, in 2010, actually surpassed the SAT to become the most popular college admissions test. And in 2012 the ACT surpassed the SAT for the first time in total test-takers; that year, 1,666,017 students took the ACT and 1,664,479 students took the SAT. It is way more popular now because of its simplicity.

Structural Differences Between ACT and SAT.



Registration Cost


$60 with Essay


  • Math
  • Reading
  • English
  • Science Reasoning
  • Essay (Optional)
  • Math
  • Reading
  • Writing and language
  • Essay (optional)


  • 2 hours, 55 minutes (without essay)
  • 3 hours, 40 minutes (with essay)
  • 3 hours (without essay)
  • 3 hours, 50 minutes (with essay)



400- 1600

Average Score 21


Subject Level Differences Between ACT and SAT





Data Analysis

Probability & Statistics

Everyday math formulas are provided as a separate sheet.


5 reading passages

4 reading passages


Allowed for one portion of the math section.



There’s no writing section.

Includes a writing and language section.


Includes a Science section to test critical thinking skills, not specific scientific knowledge.


To test the comprehension ability. A source text is provided.

To test the evaluation and analyzing the ability of the complex issues.

Free personalized test practice

Yes, through Khan Academy, with over 4,000 questions and video lessons.
Multiple free practice tests Yes, there are ten downloadable practice tests with instant scoring.

There is only one practice test

Do One Need To Take Both The Tests?

Most high school students take the SAT, the ACT, or both during the spring of their junior year or fall of their senior year. If you are a busy parent and a busy student don’t you think it is equally important to leave time to retake the tests- in case one needs to raise the score. Taking both the tests will not solve the problem of raising the score.

a female freshman smiling

Let’s consider a scenario: after lots of soul searching, you choose ACT and your friend chooses SAT. Then confidently you prepare for the ACT. You find it taxing but you develop a habit of practicing daily hence it becomes a bit of fun. Then one day your friend says the SAT is fun. You buy the statement. And you start preparing for the SAT as well. And soon all the fun is lost. You prepare for both.

FOCUS is the Key.

You don’t have to take both. It’s a big myth. If you focus on one exam you will achieve a high score and when you will get a high score you know where you will go.

college students taking an exam

No college authority will appreciate your umpteen attempts at both ACT or SAT. They will only care to look at one score that you have submitted finally.  Superscore works but a student have taken it twice a minimum.  Needless to say, one test which gives you a high score will come with FOCUS. And to have a high FOCUS rate one needs to concentrate. If you are taking both  – you are not only spending money on registration, Books, materials, you are also spending too much time studying and you are bound to have a high-stress level. It’s unhealthy. Now, that there is pandemic and social distancing is the key for the future, focus on ONE only. With all your might. You can have a life too while preparing and you can go places. More choices lead to more confusion. Only one option gives high performance.

Let’s dig into the logical and analytical questioning to enforce some pondering for you and henceforth to help in your decision making.

Do You Take Time To Analyze?

Time is the key factor.

Dear high school student, one of the most important factors to choose between SAT and ACT is time constraints. There are lots of videos on youtube explaining the time factor as the main criteria to decide about the SAT or ACT. S,o if you take time to understand a problem go for SAT, and if you are quick to get the problem go for the ACT. There is nothing wrong if one takes the time to understand the problem. That means a person is meticulous and goes deep to dig: a gold digger. On the other hand, if you get the problem quickly and get the solution swiftly as well then you are sharp-minded and ACT is for you.

If you always run out of time in whatever task you take and it’s a known fact known to you, your family and friends, then go for SAT.

Do You Stay Put Under Pressure?

Also, do time constraints make you panicky or you feel stressed out? If the answer is yes go for the SAT. If you are comfortable under pressure and it doesn’t impact you at all and your performance increases with pressure then you should opt for the ACT.

 Do You Take Time To Read?

This is again not a judging criterion for smartness. Many students take time to read and many read fast. Way too fast.

If you take time to read go for the SAT. if you read fast go for the ACT.

ACT has ACT reading. ACT Reading is like Sat reading and SAT writing and language. But, ACT science is also like reading.

Do You get nervous, panic attacks, or anxiety on exam day?

Go for the ACT as it has a more predictable structure than the SAT. For example, in ACT, the reading section will always have the same sequence of genre passages – Prose Fiction/Literary Narrative, Social Science, Humanities and Natural Science

Do you love science?

ACT has a science section whereas the SAT does not. But the science section of the ACT is more like a reading section of SAT. Even if you have not studied science (physics 1 physics 2, biology, or chemistry) at high school still you can easily take the science section. It is more of the data analysis and its data-driven as graphs and charts are provided to interpret from. If you have science in high school then this section it’s easy peasy.

Do you love math?

If you love maths and can solve advanced mathematical problems without a calculator go for the ACT. Though the SAT has the math of 800 value (half of the total score)  but SAT math is easy compared to ACT. Also, another factor you need to take into ACT math is it’s only one-fourth of the entire score. There are three more parts.

Do you love math and science both?

Go for the ACT.

Does writing an essay sound easy to you?

An essay is optional in both SAT vs. ACT. They are not only different in terms of the difference in timing of only ten minutes but they are also totally different kinds of essays. In ACT you need to build an argumentative essay based on some statements provided. Whereas in SAT you are provided with a passage and you need to drive opinions from there. It’s more like an AP-style essay.

What gave you more stress – ACT or SAT?

Take a real practice test of ACT vs. SAT and see in which you felt uncomfortable. In which you perform better. Which one appealed to you. Which test resonated with you. Remember no one knows you better than you.

Student's struggle in class

Are you good with numbers or are you good with numbers names or both?

If you are really really good with numbers then go for the ACT.

If you are a person who is good with words, loves to read, has been a voracious reader, and has lots of vocabulary in your arsenal, you can read fast and easily. You better go to the SAT. Don’t worry about the Math part because in a way it is more of an understanding part and Math formulas are provided.  SAT plays with confusing words. So if your vocabulary is strong but you are a slow reader but good at comprehending, go for SAT.

Exceptional vocabulary is of not much help in the ACT. If you are good at comprehending and better at playing with numbers go for the ACT as these are needed skills for the reading and science section of ACT as well.

Great Tips Factors

SAT Scores Required By The State schools

Around twenty states require their schools to have SAT scores for college admission. So, if your dream college or you are in that state and want to do your study from that state please take the SAT.

SAT – National Merit Scholarship

Preparing for the SAT will help you enter into the final and semi-final of the National Merit Scholarship. So, think about it. If you are having a good score on the practice test in SAT go for SAT. If you want a national level scholarship to go for SAT. If you have to take PSAT to go for SAT.

Are you straightforward and straightforward and easy to understand questions?

Go for the ACT.

Many students feel that SAT tries to trick you whereas the ACT is very straightforward and you either know what you’re doing or you’re not. So go for ACT if you want straightforward questions. And you are a person who gets confused easily. And you want clear and easy questions – no tricks, go for the ACT.

In short, if you have a mindset of a writer – go for SAT. if you have a mindset of a nerd – go for the ACT.

Go For Both! Yeah!

Oh, Wait!

Words are spreading that students are increasingly taking both the SAT and ACT. There have been changes made to the SAT in 2016. Henceforth, it has become much easier than ever to prepare for both tests concurrently and score lavishly in both tests. Taking both tests is also becoming a fad among high schoolers. But what do you want for yourself as a high school student?

The best way to decide is to take the SAT and ACT real practice tests without asking for the viewpoints of the others.

You will find blog posts and tutoring blog sites and youtube videos with lots of opinions and reasoning loaded pros and cons for the ACT and SAT, which only turns out to be more stressful—and surreal for a student and parent to make a decision. Think about it – If a tutoring website is encouraging you to take both. You gotta ask yourself – Why?

And here is what Budha said – Believe nothing no matter where you read it or who has said, not even if I have said it unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.”

At AdmissionSight, we help students navigate the complex college admissions process. AdmissionSight showcases students on how to strengthen their leadership skills and increase community-service involvement. If you are a concerned parent of a high schooler or a graduate wondering about the future of your child’s education or you are unable to decide about selecting the right college or you are pondering on the right subject for the right career path, please feel free to contact us today.

AdmissionSight serves students gladly.

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