Should I Take The SAT Or ACT For College Admissions?

Should I Take The SAT Or ACT For College Admissions?
Beth Dumbauld

You might be wondering "should I take the SAT or ACT?" The college admissions process has a lot of moving parts to pull together, and each one is geared towards giving you the best chance of getting accepted to the college or university of your choice. It's assumed that taking both tests is critical for increasing your chances of attending the school you really want, but you may not have to take both the tests!

Depending upon the college or university you wish to attend, here's a list of schools that either are "test flexible" or "test optional" for college admissions. So, as part of your research on the best schools to attend for your career goals, see if yours is one that gives you leeway on taking these exams.

Before we go further into each test, what do these acronyms mean? The SAT used to be known as the "Scholastic Aptitude Test." It was then called the Scholastic Assessment Test, SAT I, Reasoning Test, SAT Reasoning Test, but now it's simply called the SAT.

ACT stands for "American College Testing." Both exams assess a pupil's readiness to attend college by testing knowledge in reading and math. They each have an optional essay portion you can complete. The SAT tests writing and language, while the ACT also tests you on science reasoning.

Here are the specific course areas for each exam:


  • Reading
  • Writing & Language
  • Math
  • Essay (Optional)


  • English
  • Math
  • Reading
  • Science Reasoning
  • Essay (Optional)

(List courtesy of The Princeton Review)

Each test is scored differently. The SAT scores go up to 1600, while the ACT maxes out at 36.

As for whether or not you should take the SAT or the ACT, read on!


Let's go over each assessment exam in a little more detail to help you figure out which one is right for you to take.

We'll start with the SAT. According to The Princeton Review, the SAT is three hours long if you don't choose to write an essay. If you pick the essay test option, you have three hours and 55 minutes to finish the test. There is no science component, so if you're not aiming for a career that requires science knowledge, this may be a good choice. The math portion covers arithmetic, Algebra I & II, geometry, trigonometry and data analysis. Depending upon the math question, you may not be allowed to use your calculator to get the right answer. The minimum score is 400, and it maxes out at 1600.

In comparison, the ACT tests you on science reasoning in addition to math and reading. You are allowed two hours and 55 minutes to complete the test if you don't do the essay portion. You get three hours and 40 minutes to do the test with the essay option. The math part does not test you on data analysis. Unlike the SAT, you are free to use your calculator on all math problems to get the correct answer. The science part doesn't test your science knowledge; it tests your critical thinking skills. The minimum score is a one, and the maximum score is 36. Both exams are considered for merit based scholarship awards and admissions.

The Final Answer To Should I Take The SAT Or ACT:

If you're still not sure which test is right for you, there are opportunities to take practice exams for each test, and this investment in time and money just might be the best way for you to decide.

Some other factors you should consider are these:

  • You are compared to other applicants for college admissions consideration. Your test score isn't an absolute value against others; it's just one factor among many.
  • Your test score is graded on a curve - it's how well you performed against others who took the exam.

Figuring out which test to take may not be as easy as skipping the essay portion or taking the one that doesn't analyze your critical thinking skills. This is why reviewing each test and taking the practice test for each may be a valuable investment in your time and money to help you make your college admissions application package as strong as possible.

Finally, determine if you need both for your college admissions application package. Concentrate on doing well so you have a strong application for the college of your choice. It's unlikely you're going to score alike on both exams, so if you don't do as well on one, this could impact your chances of getting accepted to the college or university of your choice.

Want to try an online college class? Take two free lessons on us today!

Previous Post Next Post

Find Out How Much You Can Save
With StraighterLine

Request More Information
Call (877) 787-8375 to talk with a StraighterLine Enrollment Counselor!

Thanks for your Interest in StraighterLine

Our team will be reaching out to you shortly.

StraighterLine Credit Transfer Guarantee