ACT or SAT? Debunking the Myths
Updated: Jul 10
Standardized tests are a major factor in US college admissions applications stress. And, thanks to the Internet, there is a lot of conflicting information! We’ve debunked a few common myths about both of these standardized tests:
Myth: The SAT is more reputable than the ACT for college admissions.
Fact: Both tests are weighted evenly. A good score is a good score.
No university in the U.S weighs SAT scores more highly than the ACT. The reason this myth has proved so pervasively influential is because the majority of students who apply to elite schools often submit SAT scores rather than ACT scores. Additionally, the SAT has been around longer than the ACT, and many parents who studied in the US instruct their children to take the SAT out of habit. However, there is no evidence that a perfect 36 ACT Score weighs less than a perfect 1600 SAT score. Admissions counselors agree: a good score is a good score.
The only SAT-required test to take for college admissions are the SAT Subject Tests, and subject test requirements which vary from school to school. The ACT does not have subject tests. Research the schools you wish to apply to as early as possible to see if their application requires SAT subject tests.
Myth: The ACT is easier than the SAT.
Fact: Both tests evaluate different skills.
The SAT and ACT are used to measure a student’s readiness for college level work. The SAT stands for Scholastic Aptitude Test and is administered by CollegeBoard; because it is an aptitude test, it evaluates a student’s reasoning abilities rather than material taught in school. The ACT is an achievement test; it evaluates what a student has learned up to their junior year of high school.
The ACT contains four sections: English, Math, Reading, and Science, along with an optional essay writing component. The SAT contains four sections: Verbal (English and Reading) and Math (Calculator and No Calculator), along with an optional essay writing component.
Myth: The ACT requires less prep than the SAT.
Fact: The only way to decide which test is better for you is to take a practice test.
Both tests are inherently different, and both will require preparation. With more students applying to US universities, it is more important than ever for students to get the best score they can. Standardized test difficulty and prep time are dependent on the student’s abilities and commitment.
The SAT has fewer questions than the ACT. Also, the math section of the SAT contains a reference sheet for students so they don’t have to memorize as much material and formulas; the ACT does not contain a reference sheet.
However, the ACT questions are less wordy than SAT questions. The SAT has two timed math sections, which means mathematics skills comprise 50% of the test, while the ACT only contains one math section, meaning math skills are only tested on 25% of the test. The ACT also contains a science section, while the SAT does not. A student who is naturally inclined toward scientific subjects can play to their strengths by taking the ACT.
Taking a timed practice test and working with a tutor is the best way to decide which test will be easier to prepare for.
Caitlin Ouano is an academic coach at AscendNow specializing in U.S standardized testing.