Should Students Take the ACT or the SAT?

This is a question that is frequently asked by high school students.  Understanding the difference between the two tests can help you make an informed decision.

Which test is more popular?
For the first time, in 2010, more American high school students took the ACT over the SAT. Over the course of the next decade we predict the ACT will continue to gain in popularity among students, teachers, administrators, and universities.

Which test is the better measurement tool for college-readiness?
The ACT is considered the better measurement tool to gauge college-readiness.  It is an achievement test, measuring what a student has learned in school whereas the SAT is more of an aptitude test, testing reasoning and verbal abilities. 

What are the different sections of each test?
The ACT has up to 5 components: English, Mathematics, Reading, Science, and an optional Writing Test. The SAT has only 3 components: Critical Reasoning, Mathematics, and a required Writing Test. 

Which test do educators feel is the best reflection of future success?
Educators at the highest levels have realized that the ACT is a better test for college success.  While educators agree that reasoning and verbal abilities are important, they would also agree that the true measure of success lies in college readiness skills – skills the ACT directly measures.  For this reason there are currently seven states that use the ACT as their official state exam:  
Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, Tennessee and Wyoming.  Not one state uses the SAT as their official state test.

Should students prepare for and take both exams, just to be safe?
Not necessarily.  Every college and university accepts the ACT for admission and scholarship purposes and the SAT for admission. 

Comparing the ACT and the SAT

Test Type Achievement Test Reasoning Test
Make Up English, Math, Reading, Science, Writing (optional) Critical Reading, Math, Writing (including an essay)
Score Choice Yes, however schools can request all scores Yes, however schools can request all scores
Calculator Yes, math only Yes, math only
Scoring No loss for incorrect answers Loss of ¼ of a point for each incorrect answer
Vocabulary Minimal vocabulary questions (English section has a few vocabulary questions and reading section includes “words” in context) Sentence completion portion of critical reading section is vocabulary based
Features Completing reading section can be difficult

Questions are more straight forward

No formulas provided

SAT reading passages are not in order of difficulty

Wording of the answers to the reading questions can be confusing

Does not contain a science section

Math formulas provided

Accepted where? All universities and colleges routinely accept ACT for admission All universities and colleges routinely accept SAT for admission