SAT vs ACT: Which Test Should You Take?

  The New Year is upon us and everyone is working hard to keep their resolutions to be healthier and read more often. One resolution CAA encourages all junior high school students to commit to is staying on top of their college planning, including test preparation for the SAT and ACT. But why is testing important for juniors? Which test should they take? And how should they prepare for them.   During a student’s junior year, many important steps should be accomplished: taking the PSAT in October; finalizing their list of colleges, career goals and major; researching scholarship opportunities; and preparing for as well as taking the SAT AND the ACT. And, not only do we suggest students take both the SAT and the ACT, we also encourage them to start preparing for these tests three months before the testing date. Yes, three months.   So, why take both the SAT and the ACT if colleges require students to send only one or the other along with their applications? Taking both will help to familiarize them with the structure of both tests and help to decipher which one they prefer. After a student takes both the SAT and the ACT, CAA suggests they retake the test they scored better on because they will more than likely score higher on that one the next time they take it.   The two most significant differences between the tests are the basic structures and how they are scored. The SAT has three mandatory sections: Critical Reading, Math, and Writing. And, the ACT has four with an optional fifth: English, Reading, Math, and Science are all mandatory while the Writing portion is optional. Since most colleges require students to submit at least one test score with a writing section, taking the optional writing section is usually a good idea.   As for scoring, on the SAT students can score up to an 800 on each section for a total of 2400 points. The national average score for the SAT is around 1500 for all three sections. The ACT is a composite score, meaning they score each section from 1-36 then use the average as the overall score. The national average score for the ACT is around a 21. An average score or better is typically required to get admitted by a moderately difficult school. But, top colleges want top scores. Beyond admission, many colleges use test scores to help them determine merit aid scholarships, so good scores are important all around.   Now why does CAA suggest that students start preparing for the SAT and ACT three months beforehand? Much like how your muscles need a workout to become stronger, your brain needs a workout to get smarter. But how you workout is vital.  You won’t have a six-pack after doing 3000 sit-ups before bed one night—if you could even do that many, but your abs will become more defined after a month of working 100 sit-ups a day into your routine. We suggest you pace your test prep like you would pace a good workout routine.   CAA suggests students use test prep for the three months prior to their test date using it for 30-45 minutes per day, 4-5 days a week. This is very doable for even the busiest students.  And, to all CAA clients: remember, your online test prep is available to you 24/7!   Good luck juniors! Study smart!   (For test dates and prices go to for SAT information and for ACT.)