Should You Take the SAT or ACT?

Learn the UC requirements, review different analyses of the two tests, and educate yourself on the changes ACT made to the test before you decide whether the SAT or ACT is best for you.

Given the SAT redesign and some hidden problems with ACT prep materials coming to light last year, picking which test you should take can be a messy decision. Personally, I do NOT recommend taking both tests just because every hour you spend preparing for a test is time you could be spending doing something else (like adding an AP class to your schedule). Given that time invested is NOT always directly proportional to the test score, you must carefully weigh the trade-off before committing your time.

UC Testing Requirements

The UCs accept both SAT with Essay and ACT with Writing scores. Keep in mind that the UCs require the optional essay for the SAT and the optional writing for the ACT. The UC campuses will only consider your top score from one test date (no “superscore”) and they don’t really care how many times you take the tests (although most private colleges frown upon excessive test taking, so plan accordingly). If you took both the SAT and ACT, the UCs compare the scores and take the highest one.

The UCs do not require the SAT Subject Tests. However, each UC campus has its own SAT Subject Test Recommendations that you should follow. You may also use SAT Subject Tests to clear a-g subjects; see the a-g subject requirements for details.

How are the Tests Different?

One exceptional FREE resource on how to decide which test is “better” is Global Elite Prep’s Plan Ahead to Alleviate Test Prep Exhaustion, which provides a detailed analysis of the different factors you must consider before choosing which test you should take.

Just need a quick overview of the differences between the two tests? Applerouth summarized a comprehensive comparison of the redesigned SAT and the updated ACT into a nifty chart (free download) that can help you determine which test will be the best fit for your test-taking style. Note that the chart excludes the optional essay section of both tests; the SAT essay adds another 50 minutes to the test time and the ACT essay adds another 40 minutes to the test time.

ACT Changes

More students are now taking the ACT (the SAT redesign likely prompted that trend). But keep in mind that most ACT self-study test prep materials published prior to May 2016 do NOT match the difficulty level of the actual test. I discussed part of that problem in my post ACT Changes – What You Need to Know. This can put students who are self-studying for the ACT at a significant disadvantage if they are not using the most current self-study test prep materials available. If you intend to self-study for the ACT (or work with a tutor), make sure the test prep materials are up-to-date!

Test Prep Resources

Find free or low cost test prep resources or discounts and free offers on test prep courses here.


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