Should your child take the SAT or the ACT and why?

It’s a new year full of hope, possibilities… and decisions. The big one on a lot of students’ minds: should I prepare for the ACT or SAT? As both tests are equally acceptable at four-year colleges and universities that require standardized tests, the choice should ultimately be based on a comparison of a student’s performance on each.

When it comes to the frequency the tests are offered, the length, and the price, the ACT and the SAT are pretty much the same. It’s when you dive into the details of the content on each test that the differences between the tests become more apparent.

Here’s how to get the question of ACT vs. SAT figured out, so you can cross it off your to-do list and get down to work. It all comes down to what’s right for your child and knowing how the tests are unique. So, let’s break those differences down. While they can both be stressful (duh), there are actually quite a few ways to determine which exam’s better for your student.

Take for instance every mathematician’s best friend: the calculator. If you want to use one on the test, then the ACT has the edge. While you can use a calculator on certain parts of the SAT, there are also parts of the test on which it isn’t allowed.

But there’s no such thing as a free lunch. ACT takers receive less time per question than students who take the SAT. So, if the student is a test taker who likes to stop and smell the pencils, then the SAT might be a better fit. Think of it like this: Does the idea of not having enough time for every single question sound terrifying? Your child is #teamSAT.

Both tests have essay sections, but they’re a little different. Whereas the ACT asks students to present and support their own original argument, the SAT tests a student’s ability to critique existing arguments. Would the student rather create his or her own argument from scratch or try to poke holes in somebody else’s? What comes more naturally to him or her?

And there are other differences. The ACT has a 35-minute reading section and a 35-minute science section. The SAT has one 65-minute reading section, but keep in mind that does not mean the SAT doesn’t test science. In fact, SAT test takers are also asked to interpret figures, tables, and scientific writing on the SAT reading section.

A final note is that vocabulary on the SAT tends to be more challenging than on the ACT, and geometry appears more often on the ACT than on the SAT. It’s time to start reviewing those formulas for triangles, circles, and parallelograms if you’re going #teamACT.

So you know some of the major differences. For a full breakdown — including number of total questions, months offered, and time allowed, check out this comparison chart. Now’s the time for your child to put his or her new year’s resolutions into action and start preparing. To determine which test is better, have your child take a free, full-length ACT practice test and SAT practice test and compare scores. If the student scores in the top 10% on the ACT and the top 25% on the SAT, then go with the ACT.

About the Author

Dr. Jennifer Winward earned her Ph.D. with a dual emphasis in Neuroscience and Developmental Neuropsychology from University of California, San Diego. She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and graduated summa cum laude with highest distinction honors. She is a distinguished teaching professor and renowned 18-year veteran of high school tutoring. With her extensive expertise in the fields of adolescent brain development and adolescent learning, she is frequently invited to lead professional development training for teachers and college counselors and to present to families at schools and libraries.

She has taken her years of experience and her passion for teaching to create Winward Academy, an effective, personalized, and fun online tutoring platform that uses both technology and the personal touch that comes with having a teacher in your corner. Dr. Winward has been widely recognized for her academic success, published research, and service efforts with awards from the President of the United States, the California State Assembly, Rotary International, the Marin County School Administrator Association, the American Psychological Association, and the National Science Foundation.