Should I take the ACT or SAT?

Take both, choose the one you prefer, and take it four times. Colleges only care about your highest score; they don’t care and won’t determine how many times you take the test. By doing something four times, preparing hard each time, you’ve probably done your best. Though many sophomores who take their first ACT in June, right after finals, and again twice junior spring and twice senior fall.  Even six tries aren’t unusual.

All colleges accept either test (see ACT/SAT concordance tables) for admissions and scholarships. Jumping your test score is simply the best paying job a high school student could have. Try both and take one a total of four times.

Taking either test can add up, but both test companies provide free and reduced lunch students two tries for free. And in many states, a mandatory ACT or SAT junior year is also free. A free and reduced lunch student in Nebraska, for example, could take five tests for free: three ACTs and two SATs.

How is one test different from the other?

The ACT has English (mostly grammar), Math, Reading, and Science. The SAT has Reading, Writing & Language (mostly grammar), Math (no calculator), and Math (with a calculator). For high school juniors focused on the ACT, here are reasons to try the SAT:

  1. Your ACT Science score is well below your Math score. The SAT has two Math sections but no Science section.
  2. You want additional chances to trigger that significant scholarship. Colleges don’t care how many times you take either test.
  3. You typically run out of time on the ACT Math and Reading Sections. The SAT allows 13 minutes per Reading passage, while the ACT allows 8 minutes and 45 seconds per Reading passage. However, the most challenging SAT questions are considerably more difficult than the hardest ACT questions.

Some counselors say that students should take either test no more than three times because “scores don’t increase after the third try.”  Take the ACT (or SAT) four times because students who prepare hard typically see jumps on that fourth or fifth try.

And for those of you headed to community colleges, an ACT or SAT score can test you out of remedial classes. Just prepare hard and do your best each time. The ACT and SAT are the best-paying jobs high school students can have. Going to the right college at the right price means understanding the college admissions game. Preparing for the ACT and possibly the SAT senior year can help you win it.