Decisions, Decisions: Should I Take the SAT or ACT?

We’re often asked, before the tutoring process has begun, which exam a student should take, ACT or SAT? While there is no definitive, catchall answer to this question, over the years we’ve learned a thing or two about the differences between the two. In order to properly gauge which exam is right for you, you’ll have to consider what kind of a student you are.

Both the SAT and ACT have distinct features which lend to different styles of test takers. It’s helpful to consider the origins of each exam. “Back in the day,” many colleges only accepted one of the two exams. In the East, the SAT prevailed. In the Midwest, the ACT was king. The characteristics of the SAT and ACT, interestingly enough, match those of urban east coast life, and rural mid-western life, respectively. While there are of course urban mid-western hubs and pastoral east coast communities, bear with us while we compare the two exams.

Imagine you walk up to a complete stranger in New York City, and ask for directions. After he’s told you the most complicated set of directions you’ve ever heard at record breaking speed, you wonder, “Should I trust this guy?” All the while cars whiz by you in all directions, honking horns and screeching brakes. Your task is simple: Find 665 Broadway. (The address to NYU’s admissions department) But the journey seems increasingly more difficult.

The SAT is filled with distracting information. The manner in which Math, Critical Reading, and Writing problems are written can be intentionally misleading. Of course, if you know your way around the city, it’s easy to find 665 Broadway. You know not to trust directions from strangers, and you’re used to the traffic. With great preparation- like Skype Tutoring with Higher Learning Test Prep- you’ll know which answers are bologna and which are filet Mignon. If you’ve studied, scoring well on the SAT is a breeze.

The upside of the SAT is that the test makers are aware that they’ve created a tricky test. If you slip up, they’ll forgive you. You can get 2 or 3 questions wrong on the Math section and still get an 800. (Think: If I mistakenly offend somebody in New York City, it’s not like my reputation is ruined throughout the city.)

Now imagine you’re looking for 119 Anderson Hall, in an altogether different Manhattan, (the one in Kansas). When you ask a stranger in town, they take their time to tell you exactly how to get there. The directions are simple: down the street and take a right. Just don’t miss the turn, or you’ll end up in Missouri.

The ACT, in comparison with the SAT, delivers its questions and answers in a more straightforward manner. But you must be INCREDIBLY CAREFUL! One little mistake can knock you off your goal score. Luckily, if you’re working with us, diligently studying via Skype with your Higher Learning Tutor, you’ve mastered the ACT, and all of its nuances.

So, each exam has its upsides and downsides. In terms of content, they’re virtually the same. The ACT has a Science section, which the SAT lacks, but it’s essentially a glorified reading comprehension section, because for the most part, no pre-requisite knowledge is necessary. They’re about the same length (including the essay, the ACT is slightly longer), If you’re someone that struggles with time management, the ACT can be a bit more challenging, though both exams can be difficult to complete in the given amount of time.

It’s difficult to predict which exam will fit each student’s style best. Our advice is to take both exams. If time is an issue, don’t worry about the order in which you take the exams. If you’ve got plenty of time, plan on tackling the SAT first. Once you’ve mastered all that complicated east-coast trickery, all we’ve got to do is make some slight adjustments for formatting changes, and sharpen your precision a bit.

See “Get Ready for the Exams” for upcoming dates. Best of luck!

The Higher Learning Crew

Find out about our SAT Tutoring
Find out about our ACT Tutoring