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Written By: Scott Webster - ACT/SAT Director

Do I Take the ACT or SAT?

So here you are, proactively researching how to improve your SAT scores.  Well done! You have taken an important first step along the path to college admission.  But the journey is long and fraught with uncertainty, and the first fork in the road is critical: do you take the SAT or the ACT?  Have you even heard of the ACT? Rest assured, we have worked with thousands of students navigating this very question, so let us start by reviewing some test features.


The better known of the two tests, the SAT has been a fixture of the college admissions process for decades.  To better understand what the test demands of you, here’s a section breakdown:

Section Time Allotted* Questions Passages
Reading 65 minutes 52 5
Writing and Language 35 minutes 44 4
Math – No calculator 25 minutes 20 N/A
Math with calculator 55 minutes 38 N/A
Essay (optional) 50 minutes 1

*Accommodations for extended time range from 1.5x per section up to multi-day testing.  For more information, please visit Collegeboard.

So now you know the data and format of the SAT, but that doesn’t tell you much about your SAT preference.  Here are some characteristics of strong SAT test takers – do any of these statements resonate?

  • Standardized Math is my thing.
  • I don’t mind doing mental math.
  • I need more time on tests to perform to my true potential.
  • I am a meticulous reader who can handle dense passages.
  • I am not a fan of Science.

If these ring true to your test experience, then the SAT may be for you!  To be sure, contact us and speak to our test experts!


The challenger to the incumbent SAT, ACT has established itself as a popular alternative to the SAT; in fact, in recent years more students are choosing to take this test over the SAT!  To better understand why this new(er)comer appeals to so many, here’s a section breakdown:

Section Time Allotted* Questions Passages
English 45 minutes 75 5
Math 60 minutes 60 N/A
Reading 35 minutes 40 4
Science 35 minutes 40 6
Essay (optional) 40 minutes N/A

*Accommodations for extended time range from 1.5x cumulative time to multi-day testing.  For more information, please visit ACT.org.

Notice anything different from the SAT breakdown? Here are some characteristics of strong ACT test takers – do any of these statements resonate?

  • I’m not very confident about my Math skills.
  • I like Geometry and did well in the class.
  • I’m up-to-speed on my grammar rules.
  • I’m a fast reader.
  • I like Science!
  • I am comfortable with reading data tables, charts, and graphs.


It’s a tough call, with many factors to consider and timelines to explore.  One of the best ways to determine test preference is to take both the ACT and SAT officially and compare your percentile performance.  We recognize, however that that is a daunting proposition early in the test prep timeline: two high-intensity tests, roughly four hours each, two Saturday mornings to block off in a busy schedule, and an overabundance of data from itemized score reports.  If you are feeling overwhelmed, let us be your guide!


ACT/SAT Preference Test

We have carefully crafted an ACT/SAT Preference Test that compartmentalizes SAT and ACT content in a shortened diagnostic format. Based on your section performance and qualitative markers collected from a survey at the end of the test, we generate a report so you can clearly discern test preference, your standardized testing position, and the testing time line ahead.


Do you want to simplify the ACT/SAT decision making process?  Contact us to learn more about our ACT/SAT Preference Test and Guided Prep Programs.

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