ACT vs SAT: The only difference that matters


Darth SAT vs Darth ACT

In our continuing quest to put to rest the fruitless debate between the two college entry behemoths, we give you the definitive answer to which test you should take.

After all talk is over and after all the pros and cons have been listed, the one and only difference you need to worry about is which test you do better on!

No matter what the group statistics imply, no matter what your friends have done, no matter who was admitted with which scores last year, all that matters is which test provides you the best opportunity to demonstrate to colleges your ability to do well at their school.

How to find out which you’ll do better on

The best way to figure out which test you’ll do better on is to take a full length official practice test of each. I know it sucks and is a lot of work but there is no better way to find out how you’ll perform. The good news is that you can do it for free. The College Board posts a PDF of a practice test you can download here and ACT puts a free one in the registration booklet which can be downloaded here. You can also get a free registration booklet in the college office of most high schools.

If you really can’t bring yourself to take a full test and you’ve taken the PSAT, you can just take the ACT and compare your ACT score to your PSAT score (or do the same with the PLAN and the SAT). But remember that the PSAT and the PLAN are not exactly the same as their “older brother” tests, which makes the comparison a little more dubious.

Also remember to try to simulate the testing environment as much as possible or even go somewhere and have the test proctored if you can (if you’re in NYC you can arrange to come to our office).
 
How to compare the ACT and SAT

Comparing the tests should be a pretty simple process. All you need has already been provided for you in this post. Let’s just put the steps together:

1. Wake up early one weekend morning (hopefully in the summer before your junior year) and take that full length ACT you downloaded. Write down your scores. (You should go back to bed at that point).

Scaled Score

ACT (composite)

22

 

2. Wake up early a week or two later and take your full length downloaded SAT. Now you know how you did on each test and all that remains to do is compare them.

Scaled Score

ACT (composite)

22

SAT (CR + M)

950

 

3. To compare the tests, just click here to view the “concordance” chart developed by the makers of the test themselves.

Scaled Score Converted Score

ACT (composite)

22

1030

SAT (CR + M)

950

20

 

When you compare the scores, look at them in terms of the test you know best. Since we’re based in NYC, we’ll look at SAT numbers. My ACT score is 1030 and my SAT score is 950. This tells me that if I do no additional preparation, I can “expect” to do 80 points better on the ACT and that the ACT is clearly the “better” test for me.

Decision made! Prep for and take the ACT.
 
Other factors to think about

Since its not always that cut and dry, we do have to point out a few things to consider:

1. If your scores are less than 50 points apart on the two tests, you don’t really have a performance difference. You should just take the test you like better and feel more comfortable with.

2. If you have no access to prep. Some areas still only have prep for one of the two tests available (or available in your budget). It’s usually better to go with the test you can get help prepping for, unless you have more than 200 points difference between your two scores. If we assume that you’ll get about 50 – 100 points out of a typical SAT prep class (or 120 – 180 from one of ours), then if your initial SAT score is 100 points lower than your initial ACT score, I’d still plan to take the SAT (along with the prep).

3.  If you have to take a particular test anyway, then just prep for and take that test. Some school districts give one of the tests to all high school juniors and seniors free of charge and during the school day. If your school district does this, it will be more convenient to just take the test the school gives.

4. Finally, if you are applying to schools that require SAT Subject Tests, you might be better off taking the ACT. Some of those schools waive the subject tests requirements if you take the ACT.

 

Good luck!

  • Courtney Cobbs

    What a helpful post!
    I took the ACT because it seemed to be a regional thing. I had always heard that the SAT was more East and West coast while the ACT was more Southern and Midwest. I took the PLAN and did very well. I took the PSAT and cried. I had also heard/read that if you’re skilled in math, the SAT is the “better” test.

  • (877) 223-3828
CONNECT WITH US
COPYRIGHT ©2002 - 2014 BELL CURVES LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. All tests names are registered trademarks of the respective testing companies, which do not endorse and are not affiliated with Bell Curves.
BELL CURVES - 151 West 46th Street, Suite 901 - New York, NY 10036 Bell Curves is an educational services and test preparation company. It delivers high-quality consulting services, test preparation programs, and self-study resources to students throughout the country.
Equal Opportunity Employer - Privacy Policy - Refund Policy