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SAT or ACT? - Study in USA

That is a difficult question that all international students who wish to study in the U.S. have to face. Most colleges accept both, the SAT and the ACT, so which one should you take so as to improve your chances of securing admission into a college?

15 years ago, this would not even be a topic worthy of discussion. SAT was the much preferred exam for international students and even was widely attempted in the U.S. The ACT was only preferred by colleges in the mid – west United States whereas the SAT was preferred by colleges in the north – east as well as on both the coasts. However, recently the situation has gone through a drastic change and the ACT exam is as popular as the SAT Reasoning Test in the U.S and is steadily growing in prominence internationally.

Today, the colleges do not really prefer one exam over the other. Your admission is not affected by which exam you take, but rather by how well do you score in the exam you take. The trick is to choose the exam in which you are likely to score higher and that completely depends on the individual.


Essentially, SAT Reasoning Test has been designed to test you on your analytical ability and aptitude. On the other hand, the ACT exam has been designed to test you on the basis of the knowledge you have acquired in school. This difference in approach can affect your scores in either exam. One approach might suit one student, whereas the other might suit another student.

On a general level, it can be said that the ACT exam is more suitable for students who have studied hard through their 11th and 12th grades and have knowledge in subjects like Math, Science and English. It is a more ‘traditional’ exam where the focus is on ‘how much do you know’.

The SAT Reasoning Test is more suitable for students who have or have not performed that well in their school years but have great logical, reasoning and analytical skills that are required in college. It is an exam which tends to concentrate on ‘how will you use what you know’.


Another major difference between the two is with regards to their essay – writing sections. The SAT has a compulsory writing section whereas it is optional in the ACT. Apart from that, the topics you’re supposed to write are different as well. For SAT, you will generally be writing on broader topics that are more intellectually stimulating, whereas for the ACT, you will be writing on clear cut topics that you can relate to.

It can be said that if you’re good at writing, you should go for the SAT. But if you’re not that comfortable with writing and would prefer to avoid it, then the ACT would be a better option for you.

However, keep in mind that there are quite a few colleges who require you to take the ACT plus writing test if you’re not appearing for the SAT. Therefore, it will not be advisable to avoid the SAT just because of the writing section without going through your college requirements.


Another major difference between the two is in terms of science. The SAT Reasoning test does not test you on science whereas the ACT does. So if you’re not good at science, then it is advisable that you go for the SAT. But if you’re good at science, then you should go for the ACT.

Time and Negative Marking

The SAT Reasoning test comparatively provides more time per question than the ACT. However, it also has negative marking whereas the ACT does not. This creates a situation where students who think deeply about questions and do not like answer without being sure do better on the SAT. On the other hand, students who are quicker with questions and do not mind intelligent guessing can go for the ACT.

Which students should take which exam?

Students who take the ACT should have strong memories to retain knowledge and should be able read and understand curriculum based questions quickly.

On the other hand, students who take the SAT Reasoning Test should have a strong vocabulary, be good writers and should be able to use that along with their analytical skills in real life situations.

Overall, it can be said that the SAT Reasoning Test is better for students who are ‘all – rounders’ and the ACT is better for students who focus heavily on their academics and education.

How do I choose between the two?

Choosing between which exam to take can be a difficult decision. First of all, you should look at the nature of the two tests and see which would suit you more. The best way to do that is to take practice SAT and practice ACT tests under strict time restrictions. Your scores in such tests will be a good indicator of which exam is more suitable for you. There are many such practice tests available online.

Another factor that can help you choose between the two is your college requirements. Make sure that you go through the requirements of the college you wish to join. A college might prefer one exam over the other.

If you’ve decided to go with either of the two, but are not sure, then do not worry. It is a fact that the scores of most students are very similar on both the tests. As a matter of fact, many students choose to take both these tests and submit the higher marks to the college. So, whichever exam you choose, prepare as much as you can, attempt it with confidence and you will score well.

Study in USA