SAT or ACT: Which Should You Take?

February 12, 2018
Written by:
Tasha Swearingen

The finish line is in sight and you have totally arrived! Your child is ready to take the SAT or ACT, and you couldn’t be more proud (as well you should). With so much flying around on the internet about both of these exams, you might be wondering which one your student should take. Maybe your student should take both tests? The SAT and ACT are standardized tests students take to show colleges that they have the potential to do well in higher education. There are differences between the two tests, and some students do better with one over the other. So, which standardized test should your student take?

All About the SAT

The SAT (Standardized Achievement Test) is a test students take to earn a score on a scale of 400-1600 (that’s 200-800 points on each of the two sections). Colleges use that score to determine eligibility for admittance and potential scholarships. There are two big sections on the SAT: Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW) and Math. There is also an optional essay section that covers comprehension of a source text. The test lasts three hours (or three hours and 50 minutes if students choose to take the optional essay portion). Additionally, there are five reading passages on the SAT but the test itself does not cover science. However, any of the reading passages could very well be a science-based passage. The math portion of the SAT covers Arithmetic, Algebra 1, Algebra 2, Geometry, Trigonometry, and Data Analysis. Some of the math test questions allow the use of a calculator while other portions do not.

All About the ACT

Should your homeschooler take the SAT or the ACT? Maybe both?

The ACT is also a test students take for a score (on a scale of 1-36) that colleges use to determine eligibility for admittance and scholarships. The ACT covers English, math, reading, and science reasoning. It too has an optional essay. Students will have 2 hours and 50 minutes to complete the ACT (or 3 hours and 40 minutes if they choose to do the essay). The ACT consists of four reading passages covering various content areas, while the science section tests critical thinking skills, not knowledge of science-specific materials. The math portion of the ACT covers Arithmetic, Algebra 1, Algebra 2, Geometry, and Trigonometry and students are allowed to use a calculator on all portions of the ACT.

Even More Info

Now that you know the nitty gritty about each standardized test, it’s time to dig a little deeper from the other side. That’s right – we wanted to know what colleges thought of the SAT vs. the ACT and what they thought of students who take both. Since we figured you might be wondering the same thing, we’re sharing that info here!

  • In the fall semester of 2016, the University of Pennsylvania reported that more of its incoming freshman took the ACT than the SAT. This isn’t too surprising considering the ACT has been the most popular test used to predict college performance since 2012.
  • Both the SAT and the ACT are available for free in contracted states. While this means you don’t have to pay for the test, it also means you have no choice but to take one of the tests.  
  • Homeschooled students must enter a high school code (970000) to register for the test. Homeschoolers can ask for a fee waiver from a counselor at the local public high school.
  • SAT scores seem to be declining. In 2015, for instance, the average composite scores were 497 to 495 in critical reading, 513 to 511 in mathematics, and 487 to 484 in writing, according to EdWeek.

So which standardized test should your student take? In part, this decision is largely your student’s to make. Offering your own wisdom and experience might help (you can obviously relate to whichever standardized test you took), but it’s ultimately a decision your student will have to make alone. Your student may feel more comfortable taking the ACT knowing the calculator is permitted on all sections of the test. On the other hand, it may be more comforting knowing that the SAT doesn’t have a “critical thinking” section that is scientifically based. Of course, there’s also the possibility of taking both.Taking both tests can give colleges a more accurate picture of the student. It can also open more doors for scholarships! Whatever your student decides to do, make sure he or she is well prepared, studies for the test(s), and goes into it with plans to succeed.

Tasha Swearingen

Tasha is a homeschooling mom to 5 and has been homeschooling for 14 years. Currently, her children's ages span from toddler to young adult. Tasha has a Bachelor's of Science degree in Social Sciences from Florida State University and is working on her MBA through SNHU/Berklee School of Music.