The SAT and ACT are significantly different tests, and in many ways, they measure different skills. So depending on your particular strengths and weaknesses, you may perform much better on one test than the other. Admissions officers and educators often describe the difference between SAT and ACT in these terms: the ACT is a content-based test, whereas the SAT tests critical thinking and problem solving.
Beginning in Spring 2016, the SAT will focus on knowledge and skills that are more essential for college and careers. It will be designed to better capture what students have learned in class. Your child might prefer the SAT if he or she:
- Works slowly.
- Reads a lot and has a strong vocabulary. (Though the new version will shift from testing obscure words to more “collegiate” words, vocabulary is still important.)
- Thinks “outside the box.” (Questions tend to test problem-solving ability rather than factual knowledge.)
- Writes well. (The essay section will be optional, but the test will still include reading and writing sections.)
- Presentation. (This includes large print, a reader and oral presentation.)
- Responding. (Dictation, a tape recorder and large block answer sheets can help.)
- Timing. (Extended time and frequent breaks are allowed.)
- Setting. (This can mean a small group setting, special room and adaptive equipment.)
The ACT leans toward testing what students learn in school. As of late, slightly more high school students have been taking the ACT over the SAT.
Your child might prefer the ACT if he:
- Works quickly.
- Excels in math and science. (The SAT only tests math; ACT tests math and science.)
- Prefers seeing questions like he sees on school tests.
- Struggles with essay writing. (The ACT essay is optional, but may be required by target schools.)
- Kids who work slowly or who have strong writing skills may prefer the SAT.
- Kids who work quickly or who are strong in science may prefer the ACT.
- Both tests offer accommodations, but you’ll have to apply for them.