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Our head tutor's tips, tricks and thoughts for all your SAT, ACT, and US College Prep needs.

ACT or new SAT -- which is better for you?

Elizabeth von Nardroff

From the January 2017 Edition of the London-based publication of 'The American' 

So you've decided to apply to American Colleges – great! Hopefully you've read The American's November/December Issue in which we discuss the overall application timeline. This month I'd like to discuss the two admissions  tests – the SAT and the ACT --  required by most schools and help you decide which might be better option for you or your student 

The first thing to note is that if the college you'd like to go to requires a test (and most – but not all – do), then it will accept EITHER the ACT or the SAT. Perhaps you've already heard about the SAT – traditionally, it was the test most non-US applicants would take. This is no longer the case! There is absolutely no preference for one over the other, so it is up to you to take the one best suited to your needs.  But then which should you take? Let's have a closer look. 

Content-wise, the test are pretty similar – both cover Math, Reading, Grammar and optional essay writing. They do differ, however, in a few ways. 

First off, the while the ACT tends to be a more straightforward test (math questions in particular are less wordy than on the SAT), the ACT is a fast test – if you find you can process information quickly, this could be the test for you.  If not,  the SAT might be better for you. 

Another thing to consider – the ACT has a Science section. While it does tend to consist mostly of analyzing charts and graphs (quickly), its jargon and seemingly tricky material can be off-putting to some.  

Another thing to weigh in is how calculator-dependant a student is – the SAT has a non-calculator section which means students need to use some basic maths skill they might not have used in a while, such as adding fractions. In addition, the SAT uses more advanced algebra and wordy math problems, something also to consider. A plus for some for the SAT is that it gives basic formulas (including trig) while the ACT gives none. 

The Reading Section of the ACT tends to be more straight-forward than the SAT, so it might be the test for those who dislike denser (or older) texts. For examplethe SAT likes to use passages from the 1800's, the styles and vocabulary of which some students may be less comfortable with.  

In short, while the ACT is more straightforward, it requires greater speed. While the SAT gives more time to work through problems, it is tends to require greater in-depth reading capabilities. Of course these are generalizations – the best way to see which is best for you is to try a full, timed practice test of each. Whichever you feel more confident or comfortable with – that's the test to work with.