One of the most persistent questions we receive at Ivy Admissions is whether to take the ACT or the SAT.  We almost uniformly suggest that students take both exams and submit whichever score is in the higher percentile.  This will give you a competitive edge and flexibility. As is the case with most of the college search, having options is better than not having them.  Additionally, a number of schools accept a combination of the ACT and SAT, instead of the SAT and a pair of SAT IIs so you might be able to reduce the number of tests you take.


While the two exams ultimately cover similar content, they have different focuses.  The SAT seeks to test how well you’ll do in college while the ACT is looking to measure your mastery of concepts in high school.  But, personally, I think this difference is a non-issue. The ACT uses skills which you’ve already learned in high schools while the SAT uses your score as an opportunity to gauge your college preparedness.  Additionally, the SAT was redesigned in 2016 to more closely resemble the ACT; the essay section of the SAT became optional (albeit still highly recommended) and the math section was expanded to include trigonometry alongside some other more advanced concepts.  I only note this because this affects what sort of materials you can use to study for the SAT. It would be unwise to use an older brother or sister’s practice exams and you should make sure that any book you buy was published after 2016 or specifically contains material for the new SAT.


The two exams do, however, have different formats which is usually why students choose to take one exam over the other.  The SAT offers more time per question than the ACT but, to compensate, questions on the ACT tend to be slightly easier. Additionally, the ACT has a science section while the SAT does not; this portion of the test requires a little bit of outside knowledge but is more focused on your ability to understand and apply scientific concepts which are covered in short articles throughout the test.  Lastly, their essays are different. The SAT asks you to evaluate the strength of a given argument while the ACT requires you to create your own and support it with evidence. These are both life-long skills which is another reason we suggest training for both exams.


The best way to determine which test is right for you is as simple as taking a practice exam of each one under testing conditions.  That means setting aside four hours on two separate days. At first this will seem like a lot but after you’ve taken more practice exams, you’ll get used to it.  Building stamina for the test is half the battle. If you feel equally comfortable with both exams, studying for both is a great decision, about half of our students use the SAT and ACT.  Ivy Admissions offers cross training so our students can efficiently train for both tests at the same time. Additionally, we offer practice tests and in-depth analyses so you can see where you need to improve.  Ivy Admissions is committed to your success, and unlike the SAT, we actually stand for something!  (No really, the SAT doesn’t stand for anything!)