Should You 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, and preparing hard each time, you’ve probably done your best.  Many sophomores 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 though these may be less accurate with the new Digital SAT in March 2024 going forward) 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 with 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 Are the Tests Different?

The ACT has English (mostly grammar), Math, Reading, and Science. The SAT has Reading & Writing (includes grammar), and Math. Learn more about the brand-new Digital SAT and its new format.. 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 a Math section 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 new Digital SAT allows 68% more time per question. However, the most challenging SAT questions are 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.

Want to know even more about the tests?
ACT: The Ultimate Guide to the ACT in 2024
SAT: The Definitive Guide to the SAT 2024