If you are planning on applying for college soon, part of weighing your options includes asking, “should you take both the SAT and the ACT?” There are many factors which go into making this decision; in this article, we’ll break down the benefits of each test, who should take both tests, and the reasons why you will probably benefit from taking both the SAT and the ACT.
ACT vs. SAT: What’s the Difference?
Of course, each of these standardized college application tests has their own unique features and benefits. Whether you will find the ACT or SAT more to your taste depends on your personal academic strengths and weaknesses. This is because there are content differences between the ACT and SAT.
Why Take the ACT?
- The ACT contains a larger percentage of geometry questions. In fact, the ACT is made up of anywhere from 35% to 45% of these types of math problems. Only 10% of the SAT’s questions are typically based on geometric concepts. Therefore, if you are well-versed in geometry, you may choose to take the ACT over the SAT to show off your skills. If you struggle with geometry, consider the SAT.
- If you find comfort in having a calculator available, you may prefer the ACT. The ACT allows you to use a calculator on all applicable sections of the test; during the SAT, there is a section where you are not allowed to use a calculator.
- The ACT offers a chance to show off your writing skills. Although the writing section of the ACT is optional, completing it offers an opportunity to display your abilities as an essay-writer. If you’re someone who is good at constructing eloquent arguments in a short period of time, the ACT with writing might be for you. The SAT no longer contains a written essay portion.
- Is science your favorite subject? The ACT includes a science reasoning section. This section tests students on their analytical skills, asking them to interpret data sets, critique experimental procedures, and find connections. While the SAT does not contain a specific science section, analytical questions about scientific data and experiments are scattered throughout the other sections.
Why Take the SAT?
- Are math formulas not your forte? The SAT comes with a math formulas chart that you are allowed to use during the test. The ACT does not.
- Do you prefer data analysis over probability and statistics? The SAT contains no probability or statistics questions, only those concerning data analysis. If you like to avoid data analysis when possible, avoid the SAT and lean towards the ACT.
- There is more reading to be done on the SAT than the ACT. The SAT has five reading passages, while the ACT has four.
- There is no science section on the SAT. As discussed above, there is a science-based section on the ACT. So, if science isn’t your strong suit, you may want to plan on taking the SAT. Note that the SAT does still contain some scientific analysis questions; they are just folded into the other sections of the test. (You might, for instance, have to answer reading comprehension questions about a scientific article.)
- Across the different sections, the SAT gives you more time per question. However, keep in mind that the questions on the SAT tend to be less straightforward and more complex. You will need that extra time.
Finally, if you struggle to focus during tests, you might be wondering, “Which is longer, the ACT or the SAT?” The SAT is three hours long. The ACT is two hours and fifty-five minutes long. However, if you add the essay, the ACT is three hours and forty minutes long.
If you’re still not sure which one sounds more up your alley, try taking a free Mini Diagnostic Test to get a sense of your strengths and weaknesses.
For a deeper dive into the intricacies of each test, check out our article on the difference between the ACT and SAT.
What’s the bottom line?
The state in which you reside and your choice of school will indicate which tests are required, if any. In general, if you live in the Midwest, you’re more likely to hear of more students taking the ACT; if you are located on either coast, you’ve probably been preparing for the SAT.
Some states (like California, Colorado, and Washington) have become increasingly test-optional in recent years; this means that in these states, you are not required to submit either SAT or ACT scores. Additionally, some specialized institutions (conservatories of music, for example) may not require applicants to submit test scores. More recently, the number of schools nationwide moving to a test-optional model has increased, due in large part to the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But many states require that you take either the ACT or SAT. As of 2021, the following is true:
- States that require the ACT with writing: Alabama, Hawaii, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Utah, Wisconsin
- States that require the ACT, writing optional: Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Wyoming
- States that require the SAT: Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, West Virginia
- States that require either the SAT or the ACT: Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Idaho
Note that states that require that you take a test typically pay for the test administration. Note also that no states require students to take both tests (though as we are about to explore, it’s still a good idea).
Finally, make sure to ask the admissions counselor(s) at your preferred colleges which tests are required, and at the very least make sure you take those required tests.
In general, we think that everyone should take both the SAT and the ACT.
Do You Need to Take Both the SAT and ACT?
All told, taking one of these tests gets you on the right track towards admittance to your preferred school. But while you may not have to take both tests, it can still be in your best interests to take both, especially if:
- You want to stand out to the schools of your choice. This is true even if you are a student who may struggle academically. For example, within a pool of candidates who have higher GPAs, but did not submit SAT and/or ACT scores, your scores will help you stand out. We explore this more in our “Building Your College Résumé” section below.
- You hope to apply for—and win—more scholarship money. Taking both the ACT and the SAT improves your chances at winning important scholarships for your college years, like the National Merit Scholarships. Winning a scholarship (or two… or three) gives you a financial leg up throughout the next decades of your life, and can make it possible for you to attend a more expensive school that may otherwise be out of reach.
- You want to choose the better test score. Say you bomb the SAT, but soar through the ACT. If your schools of choice do not require either test, or leave the option up to you, you will have an excellent ACT score to submit along with your college applications, and they never need to know about your underwhelming SAT performance. In other words, you won’t be putting all your testing eggs in one basket.
- You want to improve your test scores. In general, students who take a standardized test more than once show improvement with each new iteration of the test. This has a lot to do with the fact that we are generally more comfortable with known phenomena; for example, the second time you take the ACT you will have a much better sense of what the experience will be like. By extension, students who take both the SAT and ACT have a bit of a leg-up—the tests are similar enough that taking both gives you even more opportunities for score improvement.
Building Your College Résumé
Remember 2019’s infamous “Operation Varsity Blues” scandal, which uncovered a shocking pattern of college admissions bribery? While the actions of the parents involved cannot be condoned, it’s undeniable that they knew the importance of making sure their children’s applications stood out to prestigious colleges nationwide.
What they knew (and what we can learn from them), is that students with an impressively well-rounded college application portfolio make more attractive potential undergraduates. Instead of faking a remarkable college résumé, you can work on creating an authentic application portfolio filled with interesting highlights, academic and otherwise. When it comes to building your college portfolio, more information is always better than less information.
Things you will want to include:
- Your Grade Point Average (GPA)
- SAT scores
- ACT scores
- Class rank
- Any awards, academic or otherwise
- List of volunteer experience
- List of work experience
- Any extracurricular activities
- Workshops or programs that do not appear on your high school transcript
- The languages you speak (if applicable)
- Special skills, like coding
- Activities that showcase leadership qualities
Since a good résumé fits on one page, showcasing ACT and SAT scores (which take up very little space) is an excellent way to help your application stand out. You will be amazed at what opportunities may appear before your eyes when you submit two outstanding scores instead of one!
Do you have the resources to take both tests?
We’ll level with you—taking both the SAT and ACT is only “worth it” if:
- You have enough time to adequately prepare for both tests.
- You are able to afford the costs and subsequent fees of both the ACT and the SAT. If you’re not sure what you can or cannot afford, our feature on ACT Costs, SAT Costs, and Fee Waivers helps you easily compare the expense of each.
- You have access to quality test prep resources for both tests.
When it comes to this last point, Piqosity has you covered, with full-length SAT practice tests, full-length ACT practice tests, ACT test strategies and answer explanations, and so much more!
Prepare for Both the SAT and ACT with Piqosity
Should you take both the SAT and the ACT? Yes, you should—but only after you’ve fully prepared with exceptional online test prep like that offered by Piqosity. Our excellent, competitively priced ACT and SAT test preparation packages include:
- Up to 10 Full ACT or SAT Practice Tests
- Tutorial Lessons with Video Explanations
- Adaptive, Gamified Practice
- Options for Parent-Tutor Consultations
- Score Reports and Real-Time Score Predictions
- Personal “Strengths and Weaknesses” Analysis
- Printable PDFs
- Piqosity Virtual Tutor
- …and Much More!
Still not convinced? That’s okay—you can register for FREE (no credit card information required) for our Community package, which gives you access to a Diagnostic Test and many of our key platform tools.
But wait, there’s even more! If you’re interested in both our ACT and SAT test prep packages, they can be bundled together; soon, we also will be offering additional bundling options for our Algebra 2 and 11th grade English courses, which provide further remediation, enrichment, and test prep.
So what are you waiting for? Start building up your college résumé by practicing for the ACT and SAT with Piqosity!
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