By Liz Boyd and Kim Parros

If you’re in high school, you may be wondering whether you should take the SAT or the ACT. In general, the two tests have gotten much more similar since the SAT was revamped in 2016, but there are still a few differences that may sway you towards one or the other.

The SAT & ACT What Is It?

The SAT and the ACT are some of the most important tests that you will take in your high school career. The scores on these tests are part of what many colleges will be looking at when they review your college application; so it’s important to do well and to make sure you’re studying ahead of time. Although some good news is that some colleges are moving towards “test optional” so for these colleges the test is less important to get accepted, but may be important to receive merit aid depending on the college.

So Which One Should I Take?

Your high school may only do one of the tests, but it’s important to see which one is better for you as an individual to take, and then make plans to take that test. You will also want to do some research into the colleges that you’re planning to apply to so you know what they are looking for on college applications. For example, you’ll want to know if they want to see scores on the optional essay that you can do on the tests. A lot of colleges won’t require it. However, that could be something that you’ll want to err on the side of caution with. If you don’t get into your first choice college that doesn’t require the essay, your second choice college might. Also, the more information that a college can see from you the better.



The SAT tests you in math, reading, writing, and an optional essay. You’re given a total of three hours to complete the test, or three hours and fifty minutes if you choose to do the essay.
There are four sections, 2 math sections, 1 reading and 1 writing, and each section is scored on a 200-800 point scale. The total score is out of 1600. The essay is graded separately.


The ACT tests you in English, reading, math, and science, also with an optional essay. The test goes for two hours and fifty-five minutes, or three hours and thirty-five minutes with the essay.
The ACT is scored on a 1-36 point scale, with the overall score the average of all four sections. The essay is given a separate score.

Is It Better To Take Both?

You don’t have to. Colleges will take both the SAT and the ACT, and won’t count it against you if you’ve only taken one of the tests. However, there are a few reasons why taking both could still be beneficial. You may find that planning on taking both tests will help you prepare more efficiently, and in turn, will give you more flexibility when it comes to choosing testing dates. This is also another instance where you will be giving the admissions committee a little more information about you.

Preparing For The Test

Start off by researching what your top choice college’s average test scores are for their accepted students. Now you’ve got a goal for your score and a place to start. You should also be following a study plan! Make sure that you take the time to study each section of the test efficiently. There are plenty of free SAT and ACT practice tests that you can take. But after you’ve taken them, be sure that you study all of the answers you got wrong before you attempt to take the practice test over. Other students will be preparing and studying to take the SAT or ACT too, so anyone else who isn’t will be at a disadvantage. Also, don’t forget that these tests aren’t the only thing that colleges are looking for. Devoting time and energy is a must to your overall GPA, and other activities such as clubs and sports.

How Many Times Can I Take The Test?

Actually, a better question is how many times should you take the test. You can take the SAT an unlimited amount of times and the College Board won’t care, but only the last six tests will stay on record. However, it’s recommended that you don’t take it over four times. As for the ACT, you can take it up to twelve times. But again, you probably still want to take it only 3 to 4 times. Research shows that scores do not improve after 3 times unless a student takes measures to prep in a whole new way. There are some very selective schools that will even ask to see your final scores from all of the tests that you have taken. So you could still have to show that bad score you got if you didn’t take it seriously since you knew you could take each test multiple times.

So now that you know the basics it’s up to you to find the perfect fit test for you and your test taking abilities. We at Parros College Planning can assist you and help your child make all of these important decisions about which test to take and help them figure out their end goals. We help kids with their test prep plans and then help them stick to it. We are always ready to guide your child to help them get the best results they can! Please contact us to talk more about the SAT and the ACT!

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