ACT vs SAT: Myths and Legends


In recent years, students have increasingly faced the challenge of deciding which college admission tests to take. They are receiving conflicting, vague, or incorrect advice from counselors, parents, blogs, internet experts, admission officers, concerned citizens, and busybodies of all varieties. Instead of solving the problem and making the decision easier, this information overload can often increase the confusion. To help you make a decision (and hopefully not just add to the noise), we’ve started this “ACT vs. SAT” series, which will provide specific points points of comparison and clear (hopefully) unbiased information that will help you create your ACT vs. SAT scorecard. To kick things off, we’ll dispel a few of the most egregious myths we’ve heard in the ACT/SAT discussion.

5 Common Misconceptions

1. The ACT is easier.

Not true. Which test is easier depends on your personal strengths and weaknesses. It’s much like the difference between baseball and softball, where some will find one game easier than the other. In theory softball is easier that baseball, but not in practice and not for everyone. Also, if the ACT actually is easier for one student, it’s probably easier for everyone. Thus your percentile rankings, compared to other test-takers, would still be roughly the same. It’s like asking whether to have a race on a straight or curvy racetrack. For most runners the race track won’t make a difference since everyone will be on the same track. You can also think of it as the difference between plain and peanut M&Ms. There seems to be a big difference, but health-wise they are almost the exact same thing.


2. The ACT Math tests harder topics.

Sort of true. The SAT and ACT are both primarily Algebra and Geometry tests, though the ACT includes some Trigonometry. The SAT does not contain any Trig, however the ACT only has 4 Trig questions out of the 60 math questions. So for everyone but the test-takers who are striving for a perfect score, those 4 questions are not going to make any real difference in the final score. If you skipped all 4 Trig questions (though we should all know that you should never leave a question blank on the ACT) you could still get a 34 on the ACT.


3. You should take both tests.

No. The shotgun approach to testing is inefficient and often ineffective. A student should only take a test when they have prepared for it. If you just take the ACT, without preparation, because you didn’t like your SAT score, odds are you won’t score in a higher percentile than you did on the SAT. The best approach is for students to take a practice test of each early (like summer before 11th grade or in the fall of 11th grade) and then decide which test is better suited to their skills and then prepare fully for that test.


4. Colleges prefer the SAT (or ACT).

Nope. At our last check all US colleges don’t care which test gets submitted, so students should take the test that suits them best and submit that test.


5. The ACT is better for African-Americans, women, first generation college students, low income, or any subgroup you choose to name.

Unproven. We have yet to find any research to support that the ACT favors one particular subgroup that the SAT disadvantages. Overall, groups perform about the same on each test. Individuals might have a preference or a performance advantage on one versus the other, but there have been no large group preferences found yet.


Hopefully this helps dispel some of the myths. To truly determine which test is better for you, take a practice test of each and then compare them using a concordance chart.


Good luck with your studies. If you want to learn more about the SAT or ACT join us for a free session by clicking here.


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