Depending on where your scholarly aspirations lie, you may have the option between taking the ACT or the SAT. While there are some schools that accept only one or the other, many are now of the mind-set that only one is necessary.
So, when you have the choice, which should you go for?
That would depend on what kind of test-taker you are.
Historically, the SAT (short for Scholastic Aptitude Test) has been run more similarly to IQ tests. The exam is meant to test your reasoning abilities with material entirely unfamiliar to you. The ACT (short for American College Testing) has traditionally been seen more as an achievement test--it is meant to examine how well you can apply the knowledge colleges expect you to have learned prior to admissions.
For this reason, many students feel more comfortable with the ACT format than that of the SAT, as it is easier to “traditionally” prepare for it. In fact, as of 2011, the ACT surpassed the SAT as the more popular exam choice for potential applicants.
Another factor in deciding between the tests is length and formatting. Though the tests only vary by a length of five minutes (3 hours for the SAT without the essay section, 2 hours and 55 minutes for the ACT without the essay), their structures are a little different. The SAT has one more reading passage and does not include a science section. Though the science section of the ACT is more critical analysis based, this is still a factor to consider when choosing between the two exams. Additionally, the ACT has recently discontinued the use of the essay section within your composite score.
This is where you as a student must assess your abilities and strengths--is there a section you feel more or less comfortable with? What is the best way to maximize your abilities? Most importantly...
What does this mean for you?
Taking practice exams to help you decide which test you’re more comfortable with is key. If the colleges and universities you’re looking at are happy to consider either exam, it is in your best interest to figure out which format you’re more likely to succeed in. There is also the option of taking both exams, and only sending the best of your scores to the school of your choice.
This is where solid preparation can come in handy. To supplement prep courses and hitting the review books, there are a few ways you can hedge your bets when it comes to exam day. Practice exams are going to be your best friend. The more familiar you are with a format, the more likely you are to recognize patterns these tests are known for having. Encountering language and formats you are familiar with will increase your level of comfort, which will help lead you to a better score.
In addition to a trusty number two pencil (mechanical not recommended), there is also the option of test accessories like the Top Score Test Watch (which is handy in that it will function properly for whichever exam you decide is right for you) to help increase your score. Functional for every entrance exam from the PSAT to the ACT (and all those in between), the benefits of managing your pace will help reduce stress on test day.
While these exams can feel daunting, preparation is key. Knowing what to expect and feeling comfortable with your decisions are the most important factor towards a solid score. Deciding which test is right for you is half the battle. Good luck, and get practicing.