Which Test Should You Take: ACT or SAT?

"Which test should I take?" Given that the ACT and SAT are a significant piece of the puzzle for most college applications, it is not surprising that this is one of the most frequent questions we receive at SC Test Prep. It is even more so this year since students have to consider the SAT's current and redesigned versions (coming in March 2016). It is also one of the most important questions.

Obviously, each student and even each application is different, but test preparation professionals and college counselors have slowly coalesced around almost unanimous opinions regarding the best advice for families making the standardized testing decision this year.

The following is a brief guide to help choose the right test based primarily on where a student is in high school.


…should focus on either the remaining SAT test dates using the current format (Nov 7, Dec 5, and Jan 23) or on the ACT. This will avoid two potential issues with the new SAT:

1) College Board has already announced that scores for the redesigned test will be significantly delayed and students taking the March SAT will not receive their scores until mid-May. Coming after most decision deadlines, this means that for the majority of seniors, there is essentially no benefit in taking the new SAT.

2) As a norm-referenced test, it is and will continue to be unclear how the changes in format, subject matter and question types on the redesigned SAT will affect score distribution. Given this uncertainty, students who are attempting to earn particular scores needed for admission or scholarship will be at a disadvantage when preparing for the new test, especially in comparison to the current SAT or ACT.


…should actually be even more specific in their standardized test strategy and focus solely on the ACT. Though probably not as severely affected by the issues facing seniors regarding the redesigned SAT, the uncertainty surrounding the test and late score reports will still prove a disadvantage to this year's juniors compared to their peers in years past or future.

Most professionals, including admission counselors, recommend taking standardized tests early in the spring of a student's junior year. This facilitates analyzing that initial score, focusing practice on particular strengths and weaknesses, and still having plenty of time to take either test additional times in an effort to raise scores. This timeline is possible if a student chooses the new SAT in March, but because of the late score reporting, they will have less time to maximize their potential than those students who choose the ACT.

Sophomores and Freshmen…

…comparatively, will have a more normalized standardized testing landscape to navigate, with only two choices facing them: the ACT or redesigned SAT. As a result, like most students historically, students should take both at least once and then focus on the test with the better outcome and comfortable level.

One Warning:

Most institutions have already announced that they will not allow super-scoring (combining a student's highest subject scores from separate test dates) between the current and redesigned SAT. Moreover, a few schools, such as Virginia Tech, have already announced that they will not be accepting scores from the current SAT after this admission cycle. As a result, students attempting to move ahead of the curve should focus on the ACT rather than try to "bank" scores from the current SAT.

One Exception:

The redesigned SAT, to a much greater degree than the current SAT or the ACT, tests students' command of material and rewards students who have taken a rigorous high school curriculum. This combined with the relative lack of preparation most students will have for the new test means that high-achieving students may be able to set themselves apart to a statistically greater degree than usual during the first few test dates, earning even higher scaled scores than otherwise. For students in the top 10% of their high school class, particularly juniors, it might be worth taking the redesigned SAT at least once, just in case.

SC Test Prep will be offering a 6-week course designed for the new SAT beginning in January 2016. Scheduled to prepare students for the March 5 test date, the first sitting using the redesigned format, we will teach the structure and scoring of the new test, as well as specific strategies for each question type. If you are interested in reserving a seat, or have any questions, please contact us at info@sctestprep.com.