SAT or ACT? Which One is Best? Three Graduates Weigh In


Students who have recently graduated from high school have a lot to say when it comes to the high-stakes examinations such as the SAT and ACT. This month, I asked three young women, Lexi, Grace, and Nicole, three questions about the process of preparing for these tests. These questions are often asked by parents and their teens. Lexi, Grace, and Nicole had a lot to say and I thought I would share their thoughts with you and your teenager, as you begin the process.

KLS : Many students ask me about the SAT and ACT. Frequently, they ask which examination is “easier.” What do you think?

Lexi : In my opinion, the ACT overall was easier that the SAT. The science section of the ACT was not hard and felt like easier points if you knew what to look for. The only problem that I had with the ACT was that I was more crunched for time than I was when I took the SAT. I feel like many people have different opinions. It is important to identify your strengths and weaknesses and then compare it to the question styles of each test.

Grace : For me personally, the SAT was more difficult than the ACT. But I think this is because math is not my strong suit and on the SAT, there are two math sections whereas with the ACT there is one math section and a science section. I think every student should take each test once, and then determine which test they like of the two and put their study efforts towards that particular test.

Nicole : I decided to take the SAT and not the ACT. Thinking back, I wish I would have taken the SAT and ACT and then decided. It would have been nice to compare but I was too anxious at that time. I was allowed additional time on the SAT because of my anxiety, which I have always suffered from. I take medication for that but that isn't enough. The extra time and a half allowed me time to relax, complete all of the questions, and check my answers.

KLS : That is good advice for everyone. I know students have told me that they are not sure how best to prepare for the examinations. There are different courses offered in many communities including individual tutoring and online courses. What was your experience andf what do you advise?

Lexi : I would recommend that students get 1 on 1 tutoring. I felt that the individual instruction made a huge difference. The tutors know all of the inside tricks to taking the test. It's important to actively listen to the instructor and actually do all of the practice assignments that they give you.

Grace : I found working one-on-one with a tutor helped me the best with my preparation, as well as having a practice book to do practice problems when I was on my own. Having a tutor allows you to develop questions and get them answered and explained. This is hard to do with online prep. A tutor will be able to determine the best path you need to follow to have the ultimate success with the test.

Nicole : I used an online prep course over the summer. I like to study on my own and the online class was useful. I also reached out to my teachers for help when something was confusing.

KLS : Students also ask me when they need to seriously think about preparing for the examinations. What would you suggest?

Lexi : I would recommend that one would start seriously preparing for the test around 5-6 months before the test itself. It's important to not try to cram all the information, but rather take your time to understand the topics. I would say that a student should start to learn about the differences between the tests earlier on. Also, once you decide which test is your favorite, you should dedicate all your time to learning that test only.

Grace : I think students should understand the basics and lay out of the test at least a year to a year and a half before serious prep. After deciding which test is the best for the student, they should start seriously studying at least six months before to ensure they know that material as well as the test structure.

Nicole : I took the SAT November of my junior year. I began to study for the test the summer before in July. July and August were intense months of preparation for me. I decided to buckle down at that time because school began in September. I was ready for the SAT in November but would not have been ready had I begun to prep for it in September. This was the new SAT so the guidelines were not clear. However, the online course was very helpful in understanding the sections of the test.

KLS : The SAT and ACT are often considered the “gateway” to college admissions. However, taking these examinations are not for everybody. In addition, many colleges and technical schools do not require these examinations, as told to me from college counselors. Students and their parents are advised to discuss any concerns they might have with their college counselors.

Thank you, Lexi, Grace, and Nicole for your time in responding to my questions. I realize you are busy during these last days of summer and are preparing for college. I also know that you have helped many students begin to process this important phase in their life. 

Karen L. Schiltz, PhD