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Updated: Feb 18, 2022

The SAT and ACT are 2 of the most widely available and used standardized tests across the country. In 2019, each exam was taken by about 2 million students in the U.S and more students are increasingly taking both. As a recent high school student, I took and studied for both exams and yet, I didn’t really know why. Maybe it was because I just wanted to ‘check out’ the other exam, or maybe there was some other reason I felt compelled to go through the grueling process of standardized test-preparation for the 2nd time. Either way, after succeeding on the SAT, I took the ACT and in the process learned about their key differences and which exam may be best for you.

Is The SAT Important?

Yes, but not more important than the ACT. They’re equally important. The SAT is the more common and perhaps slightly better known of the 2, which makes sense given its history and standardization. Composed of 3 different sections focused on Math, Reading, and Language, as well as 1 optional essay, the entire exam takes anywhere between 3 and 4 hours. In my opinion, the SAT is ideal for some students that enjoy having more time on the exam and want to feel less pressured. On the SAT, the goal is to get as many questions right as possible, not simply finish the exam first. This mind-set that the test-makers have creates a more skills-based exam that isn’t about rushing or a fast pace. Of course, some may feel rushed, especially in a time-crunch at the end of the section, but the SAT is usually more time-forgiving than its rival, the ACT.

That being said, the additional time the test-maker gives you isn’t entirely free. It is common for questions on the SAT to try to trick students, suggesting that careful reading is quite important on the exam. ACT questions, on the other hand, are designed to be more straightforward.

How Many Sections are on the SAT vs ACT?

Composed of 4 sections, the ACT is slightly more comprehensive and fast-paced than the SAT. The main difference is that in addition to a Reading, Math, and English section, there is also a science based section. Evidently, if you happen to have a penchant for biology or chemistry, the ACT may be right for you. More broadly, the entire exam is slightly shorter than the SAT, lasting anywhere between 2 hours and 55 minutes to over 3 and a half hours. Although 5 minutes doesn't seem like a great deal of time on a huge standardized test, it’s key to remember that the ACT has more sections than the SAT in a smaller time period.

SAT College Admissions

SAT. College admissions. The words are almost inextricably linked. Wisdem guides clients through the college admissions process, so you might be wondering which test we recommend. The answer? Whichever test is best for you. In a stressful test environment, having additional test questions in a smaller time frame often adds pressure. If you don’t thrive under timed conditions and don’t have great time management skills, then the ACT may be a much harder exam for you than the SAT. However, if science is your strength, or if you’re not a careful reader and prefer more straightforward questions, then you might prefer the ACT.

Is SAT required for college admission?

Traditionally, most schools have required the SAT or ACT for college admission. In the wake of COVID-19, however, this has changed. A number of universities are not requiring either test for the 2020-2021 admission season. This includes many notable, highly selective schools. As a result, some students may reconsider submitting scores with their application this fall. Still, it is important to remember that a good score on either test is far more likely to help your application than it is to harm it. So those preparing for the test should continue to aim high and strive for the best score possible.

Above all, your success on either of the college admissions exams depends primarily on the effort you put into test preparation and in general: studying. No matter which exam you end up taking, a huge amount of effort and skill is necessary to get a top score. But don’t just stick with 1 exam because you're comfortable with it and understand its structure. Your score could improve by switching to the exam you, as a college hopeful, are more disposed toward.

SAT Tips and Tricks

When you do decide which exam you're suited for, get ready to begin the long and disciplined process of test preparation. For more detailed information on the exams and how they fit into the college admissions process, contact Wisdem USA. We’re here to help.

Good Luck!

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