The ACT vs The SAT

Page 4: Deciding: SAT or ACT

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New SAT Notice: The content on this page has been updated to reflect the March 2016 changes to the SAT, otherwise known as “the New SAT.”

How to Decide

The Step-by-Step Process to Figuring Out Which Test You Should Take (ACT vs SAT):

ACT or SAT: Choosing the Right Exam for You

 Step 1 

Get the official testing booklets for both exams. These books have real SATs and ACTs, and real grading rubrics. These are the two official books:

The Official College Board SAT Manual

The Real Act Prep Guide

 Step 2 

Look through each test.

Don’t actually take these tests yet. Just look through each section and get a “feel” for what each test is like. Spend a few minutes on all the different sections looking at problem types, instructions, etc. You don’t want to be figuring out the instructions for each section when you take your diagnostics (instructions coming up shortly).

Before taking either practice test, you should get familiar with the basic formatting and question-types on each exam. The point is to understand how much time you have on each section, figure out what’s being asked, how the questions are formed, etc.

Don’t go into these exams cold. You need to know what to expect, so that, during your decision tests, you don’t waste time figuring out what the heck is going on.

 You Might Already Be Done at This Point 

If the ACT looks doable, keep moving. If the ACT looks like a complete and utter nightmare, just stick with the SAT

Remember: the SAT is a much easier test than the ACT. However, it’s easier for everyone who takes it! Therefore, if you’re the type of student who can crush the ACT, you’ll have a HUGE advantage over the vast majority of the students who take it, who find it extremely difficult and who usually aren’t well-prepared. Use the scaling effect to your advantage. But if you think the ACT looks like all your worst fears bundled up into a neat stack of paper, and you don’t usually have a lot of confidence in your testing abilities, I usually recommend sticking with the SAT. I promise you: any student is capable of getting AWESOME scores on either test – but if you’re really not digging the ACT, just grab the SAT and move on.

If both tests look doable, and you want a more “scientific” approach to this entire process, read on:

 Step 3 

Set aside three hours on two consecutive weekends for your “decision tests.”

To get an accurate idea of where you’re scoring, you don’t need to take full-length diagnostics. I’ve developed a sort of “mini test” procedure that still provides remarkably accurate results. However, that being said, you still need to be well-rested, and set aside the time to do this under realistic conditions.

On two weekends in a row, perhaps from 12pm to 2pm (or any other time you know you can stick to), after eight hours of sleep, a proper breakfast, and in a quiet place, do the following:

Weekend One:

1) Complete an entire reading section of the ACT.

2) Complete an entire reading section of the SAT.

3) Grade both.

4) Multiply your reading score by 2 (the New SAT reading section is graded out of 400 points, so if you want to get an “out of 800” score that will compare to an ACT score, you’ll need to double it).

5) Compare your scores using this tool:

6) See which one gives you a better comparative score.

Weekend two:

1) Complete sections 3 and 4 of the New SAT (both math sections).

2) Complete an entire math section of the ACT.

3) Grade both.

4) Compare your scores using this tool:

5) See which one gives you a better score.

Remember: create a quiet, well-lit test-taking environment at home, remove all distractions such as cell phones and TV, keep everyone out of the room, and make sure you’re rested and well-fed. Try to take both tests at the same time on the same day (i.e. 11am on a Sunday). Also, be sure to respect time limits. The point of this exercise isn’t to do as well as possible – it’s to figure out how you’re doing.

 Step 4 

How to Use Your Result Comparisons

For the time-being, don’t worry about the science section or the and English and Writing+Language sections. Just compare your reading and math scores and use the process above (combined with my SAT <–> ACT Score Converer Tool) to do so.

If one set of scores is significantly higher than the other, that’s the test you’re going to take.

If you get a 700 on your SAT reading section (when multiplied by 2) and a 23 on your ACT reading section, you should take the SAT. Done and done. If you get a 460 on your SAT reading section (when multiplied by 2), and a 33 on your ACT reading section…you know what to do.

Metrics are everything, and if you’re clearly better at one test than the other based on real diagnostic exams, then you have your solution.

If both scores are similar, or if they’re lopsided (i.e. math was better on the ACT, but reading was better on the SAT), pick the test that you LIKED MORE.

I can promise you this: there WILL be a preference. After working with over 450 students one-on-one, and thousands more through my online prep system, I have never heard of a student who is “meh” on this topic. Students usually hate one test, and don’t mind the other (it’s rare that they love either test. Alas! It looks like I’m the only person on earth who actually enjoys these things…).

If you’re one of the rare birds who has no preference, just take the New SAT. You won’t have to learn any of the strategies for the science section, so it’ll take less time and effort, and you’ll get to your target score much more quickly.

 Step 5 

Start studying immediately.

Let metrics lead the way. If your ACT scores crush your SAT scores, then start prepping for the ACT immediately (and vice versa). If they’re similar, pick the one you preferred taking and get to work!

No matter which test you decide to take, starting to study as soon as possible is THE biggest advantage that you can give yourselfBecause both tests are so similar, the material, strategies, and tactics you learn will have an instant, meaningful impact on your scores. And because these are both tests of long term skills and processes, the earlier you start, the less time you’ll need to study on a daily basis in order to get great scores. If you give yourself enough time, you don’t even need to disrupt your schedule! You can put in 20-40 minutes a day and end up with enormous score improvements in a matter of months.

If you’re looking for a way to prep, my programs deliver an average score improvement of 345+ points on the SAT and 4.66+ points on the ACT. They work.


But no matter how you choose to prep, the keys are to pick the right test for YOU and GET STARTED. In my 15,000+ hours teaching these exams, I’ve learned that THE biggest difference between the winners and the losers is the amount of “runway” that they give themselves to prep. Tackle these things early and it’ll be a simple, totally manageable process. Wait, and you’ll be lowering your scores and adding to your stress for NO reason. So get to it!

Thanks for reading, and good luck with the process! If you have any additional questions, don’t hesitate to contact my friendly support team using the chat box below. I’ll be looking forward to my next chance to help you with your prep!

Best Wishes,

Anthony-James Green

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