The SAT and ACT are the most popular standardized tests graduating high school students take for college admissions, and for this reason are very familiar to students, parents, tutors, and educators. Even with this familiarity, however, choosing between the two remains an important decision that is best made only after careful research and reflection.

What influences test choice? Many factors play a role, including the study strengths and weaknesses of students and the policies of their schools. Test recommendations or requirements are common in the admission policies of colleges (and their specific programs), and some high schools also require only one of the tests for graduation.

Established geographic trends also exist for taking the SAT or ACT: the SAT is most popular in Coastal States and the ACT is more popular in non-Coastal states. For example, 80% of students in the class of 2014 in Massachusetts took the SAT.

However, SAT test taking has also decreased even in some Northeast states where it remains more popular than the ACT, such as Vermont. The ACT has also increased its existing dominance in regions of the US such as the Midwest, and with regard to the entire country, had a higher participation number compared to the SAT in 2013 – 1.8 versus 1.5 million.

Before determining which test you should choose, let’s look at some of the key differences:

  • The SAT uses Math, Reading, Writing, and Essay sections, and the ACT uses Math, Reading, English, Science, and Essay sections
  • The SAT tests math up to Algebra II, and the ACT tests math up to Trigonometry
  • SAT questions are more difficult to understand because they require analytical thinking and logic (although they are not necessarily more difficult to solve); understanding ACT questions is more straightforward, emphasizing high school knowledge rather than reasoning
  • Points are lost for wrong answers on the SAT, but not on the ACT (note: points will not be lost on the forthcoming Redesigned SAT)
  • The perfect score and national average are 2400 and 1500 for the SAT, and 36 and 21 for the ACT

Keeping this in mind, what should affect your thinking in choosing between the SAT and ACT? Geographic trends or school policies for test choice may make deciding seem less straightforward to some students – or perhaps even unnecessary. And of course, it is very important for students to consider facts relevant to their location, high school, and colleges of choice.

Having said this, there also remains an important value in becoming informed about both tests, their usages, and trends before making a decision, even for students who already think they know which test they will take. In deciding between the SAT and ACT, the best approach may be to get all the information first – from as many sources as possible – and then discuss them with educators, peers, and parents in the context of the student’s strengths and goals.

For additional information on choosing between the SAT and ACT, as well as understanding how the Redesigned SAT will make changes to the Current SAT, please see Socrato’s new free eBook on Comparing the SAT, rSAT, and ACT.

See the new eBook now.

Image Credit: modified from Impact Hub.