ACT vs. SAT: Which One Should You Take?

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It’s a question we hear often from our students: Should I take the ACT or SAT?

The truth is, colleges don’t prefer one test over the other. Both the ACT and SAT are similar in terms of content but differ in pacing and style. So, it’s important to pick the one that puts your best foot forward – and focus only on that one.

Ultimately, the best way to determine which test is the better fit for you is to take a diagnostic for each and compare the scores.

Who should take the ACT?

Students who work well under the pressure of a time crunch and are able to rapidly process data and numbers may find the ACT is a better fit for them. Here’s what we’d consider an ideal ACT student:

Excellent student. Straight A student whose PSAT scores don’t necessarily reflect academic ability.

  • Ace with the calculator. Loves the TI-84+ calculator and knows how to maximize its functionality. 
  • Black-and-white thinker. Can quickly process information and numbers​.
  • Always takes charge in the science lab and never misses a procedural step.​ The science section on the ACT requires hardly any actual science knowledge; instead, it tests your ability to read tables and graphs, and evaluate scientific hypotheses in a timely fashion.
  • In AP English, but doesn’t read much. Only reads assigned materials and sometimes needs to refer to SparkNotes. The ACT uses a 10th to 11th grade reading level, whereas the SAT’s reading levels range from 9th grade to early college, and passages are more dense.
  • Vocabulary isn’t the strongest. This leads to missing some major points in the PSAT/SAT reading sections.

Who should take the SAT?

Students who are strong critical thinkers and like to think through information carefully before coming to a decision might find that they’re better suited for the SAT. Many of these qualities describe them:

  • Often feels rushed on tests. Doesn’t work so well under pressure and routinely feels rushed on timed exams. Likes to have the time to think about a question from multiple angles before deciding on an answer.
  • Takes longer to complete homework assignments. Applies critical thinking skills to all homework and projects, which in turn take longer to complete.
  • Strong mental math abilities. Often gets a math question right by solving it in a different way from the rest of the class. Would thrive on the “no calculator” section of the SAT.
  • Sarcastic, broad-thinking personality. Loves sarcasm and wit and always thinks about ideas in a roundabout way rather than strictly in a linear manner.
  • Makes insightful comments in English class. Well-read, reads for fun, has strong reading comprehension skills, and is great at discussing literary subtexts.
  • Extensive vocabulary. Scored very high on the PSAT reading section.

While these are generalizations, they do help paint a picture of which type of student tends to do better on which exam. Interested in a personalized, in-depth analysis to figure out which one is right for you? Contact Streamline Tutors today for a free diagnostics test!


Ian Siegel

For more information about how to navigate the college tract, contact director of Streamline Tutors, Ian Siegel who specializes in college counseling, test prep, and academic coaching. You can visit his website, or contact him directly at [email protected]
Ian Siegel

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