Admission News

Which Gives You an Edge: the ACT or the SAT?

Written by CB Experts

While the Ivies are rejecting nine out of ten of their applicants, students are wondering how to get an edge for admission to their dream college. One edge, some feel, is taking the right standardized test, the one on which you can score the best.

Many students simply take both tests and then submit their highest score. Some will even submit scores from both tests if the scores are comparable. However, these tests are expensive, and there may be no need to take both. In fact, colleges tend to say they have no preference for either the ACT or the SAT. Does one have an advantage over the other for applicants looking for the best way to position themselves?

In an article written by Michelle Slatalla  for the New York Times, some of the differences in the two tests are explored along with why one could be better than the other for certain students.


The ACT is curriculum-based. Because it is knowledge-based and straightforward, students with disabilities may do better on it. However, those with reading disabilities should be cautious, as the ACT is very reading-intensive. The ACT is also shorter. At two hours and 55 minutes, it is 50 minutes shorter than the SAT. If a student finds it hard to focus or concentrate over time, the ACT is probably a better fit. The ACT does have an optional 30-minute writing section which some colleges require; in this case the ACT is only 20 minutes shorter than the SAT. The ACT tends to test verbal skills through grammar and contains questions over science and trigonometry. If you are a strong student in these subjects, choose the ACT. Work seems to pay off for overachievers on the ACT, and girls are only slightly behind boys in scores on the ACT (21.2 – boys, 21 – girls).


The SAT tests for reasoning skills, not knowledge. It is also a longer test at three hours and 45 minutes. Verbal skills are tested mainly through vocabulary. There is no science or trig on it, so students who are not strong in these subjects may fare better on the SAT. Underachievers can often do well on the SAT iof they are good thinkers, even if they have not worked hard in their high school courses. Boys tend to outscore girls on the SAT (1037 – boys, 1001 – girls).

What to Do?

Students who have a good grasp of a rigorous high school curriculum, whether or not they excelled in those courses, generally do well on both tests. However, if you have to choose, it’s best to take the pretests for each and then choose. The pretest for the SAT is the PSAT, and the pretest for the ACT is PLAN. Sometimes schools will offer both in the sophomore and junior years. If your school does not offer both, it is a wise idea to take them online. There are a number of resources available online for both tests.

Still not sure which test is right for you? Check out our own take on the advantages and disadvantages of each test.

About the author

CB Experts

Content created by retired College Admissions consultants.