SAT or ACT: which do colleges prefer?

The ACT vs The SAT

Page 3: Which Test to Take

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

Should you take the SAT or the ACT?

Prepping for these tests takes time. Any good prep program emphasizes a consistent, light, long-term strategy. It’s the way your brain learns best, and it’s the easiest way to prep for these exams without screwing up your schedule.

With that in mind, it’s important that you pick the right test for YOU. Why spend all those hours prepping for the wrong test? The entire point of the admissions process is to highlight your strengths and minimize your weaknesses, so why on earth would you ever take an exam that exploits your weaknesses instead of your strengths?

It doesn’t take much to figure out which test is best for you, and it’s VERY easy to do (as you’ll soon learn). However, before I tell you how to decide which test to take, I want to make one very important point:

 Colleges do NOT prefer one test over the other. 

For some reason, there’s a widespread belief that the ACT is some sort of “bohemian” exam. The “smart” kids take the SAT, and the “alternative” kids take the ACT. This concept is completely ridiculous. I actually think the ACT is harder than the SAT (but I’m one of the people who prefer the SAT – again proving my point).

Recently, the ACT surpassed the SAT as the most frequently-taken college entrance exam. There is nothing alternative about the ACT whatsoever. And colleges couldn’t care less which one you take – they just want high scores.

I think this belief stems from the fact that most parents had never even heard of the ACT when they were applying to college. It was “SAT or bust.” So this newer, more unfamiliar test strikes them as goofy and strange. But make no mistake: the ACT is plenty rigorous, and colleges know this.

I’m always asked which test certain colleges prefer, and my answer is always the same:
Colleges prefer whichever test gives you the best COMPARATIVE score.

Colleges use these tests to figure out whether they should take your application seriously or throw it in the trash. Every school has a sort of “minimum threshold” that they expect you to hit. Once you hit it, your scores basically stop mattering; from that point forward, all they care about is YOU (your extracurriculars, your essays, your recommendations, your GPA, etc.). Until you hit it, they probably won’t even bother to open your application. Your only goal is to break the thresholds of whatever schools you’re trying to attend – and those thresholds are SET EQUAL for both tests.

In other words, as far as admissions officers are concerned, a 36 on the ACT is identical to a 1600 on the SAT. A 30 on the ACT is identical to a 1350 on the SAT.

You can use my free New SAT ACT score converter to get a sense of exactly how the scores match up.

When admissions officers look at an application, the process is the same: they check the student’s GPA, his/her test scores, and if they’re both high enough, they open the folder and read the rest. Whether those test scores are SAT or ACT scores is irrelevant – they just need to be high enough (for more information on how high your scores need to be for any particular school, be sure to check out my guide on hitting target scores). By the way, if you don’t have the time to access all these guides now, be sure to subscribe in the sidebar to the right so that you can access it whenever you have the time!

Horrible SAT or ACT scores will get you rejected. Extremely high SAT or ACT scores will get your application read, win you scholarships, and make your life easier. And while it used to be the case that students who took the ACT didn’t have to take SAT subject tests, this is no longer true, which lends zero advantage to either test.

Just take the test that you’re better at taking, and all will be well.

With that in mind, we get to the punchline: how do you figure out which test you’ll be better at taking? For that, let’s move on to the next and final part of my guide!

Section Summary: Colleges don’t prefer one test over the other – they just prefer the highest score possible. And you’re almost sure to do better on one test than the other. Just use the guide on the next page for a step-by-step process on how to figure this out!
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