SAT vs ACT: Which entrance exam should you take?

What are the SAT and ACT? Two different entrance exams that are universally accepted by US colleges and universities. More than 300 colleges in North America are test-optional for international students. 

But which one is better? Colleges no longer have a preference on which test the student takes; it’s truly the student’s choice. That being said, there are a few key differences between the two different exams: 

Which one is “better”?

Colleges no longer have a preference on which test a student takes; it’s truly the student’s choice. That being said, there are a few key differences between the two different exams: 

  • TONE – ACT is fairly straightforward, while the language on the SAT tends to be more convoluted and complex. 
  • MATH – ACT math covers a wide range of topics but in less detail; calculators are allowed. The SAT math sections (there are two) are narrower, with a deep emphasis on algebra (reading and solving word problems); a calculator is only used on one of the sections. 
  • SCIENCE – ACT science does not require you to have a lot of outside knowledge on the topic; you’ll read charts and graphs, and then answer scenario questions. SAT reading is dense and historically based. Do you prefer to sift through complex language (SAT), or do you want to read charts/graphs (ACT)? The SAT does have a few graph-based questions. 
  • ESSAY – optional, but you should take it once, just in case it is required by any one of your universities. The ACT essay asks you to examine a topic you’re familiar with; you’re provided with different perspectives, and you respond with your own perspective. The SAT is a persuasive essay. You’re not asked if you agree/disagree; you’re asked to assess the essay. This is usually more challenging.
SAT Dates in Kenya.

The SAT Subject Tests are only required (or strongly recommended) for highly selective universities, such as MIT and the Ivy Leagues. These tests are multiple choice, and for specific subjects only. SAT Subject Tests cannot be taken on the same date that you sit for the SAT. We strongly recommend students take free practice tests online to determine which format they prefer. We also recommend sitting for the same exam twice; once in the spring (April – June) before senior year, and once in the fall (Aug-Dec) of senior year.

*If you need help registering for the SAT or ACT, check out our super helpful guides – SAT Guide or ACT Guide

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