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As a professional SAT and ACT tutor, I wrote this article to help answer a common type of question I hear from students and parents, which looks pretty much like this:
- Should I focus on the SAT or ACT?
- Is the ACT or SAT easier?
- Is it better to take the ACT or the SAT?
- Do colleges prefer the SAT or ACT?
- Should I take both the ACT and the SAT?
Even IF the ACT was easier than the SAT, it wouldn’t matter!
Despite everything I just wrote, I’ll play devil’s advocate for a moment and pretend the ACT is in fact an “easier” test than the SAT.
If that’s the case, then think about this: if the ACT test is easier for you, my friend, it’s easier for the competition as well. Other students, applying to the same selective colleges as you are, will also want to take the ACT instead of the SAT… why wouldn’t they? It’s EASIER! (in our imagination at least!)
So, you score higher on the ACT, they score higher on the ACT, and nothing has actually changed. You didn’t find any secret advantage that they can’t match, point for point. It’s a score-improvement standoff.
A second reason I don’t think the ACT is better than the SAT:
Believe me, college admissions boils down to being a grand competition between you and every other high school student applying to your choice of college.
Now, think about the ACT or SAT question from a college admissions officers’ point of view:
Colleges aren’t looking for students with the highest standardized test scores just because admissions officers have a deep-seated love of looking at high numbers.
Rather, admissions offices seek applicants who are in the top percentile of high school students from around the country…. Each college kind of wants to thumb their nose at other schools (colleges have competition, just like you do!) and attract more funding, increase their endowments, earn national prestige in the media…
The colleges aren’t saying “Whoa, here’s a student that got a 35 out of 36 on the ACT!… I love the number “35,” so let’s accept her!”
That ACT score of 35 doesn’t exist in a vacuum… it needs context! Your standardized test scores on the ACT or SAT require a comparison to the scores of other students to have any meaning in the real world.
So, what admissions officers really mean to say is: “Wow, this girl’s ACT score of 35 reflects the fact that she’s in the top 2 or 3 percent of students in the United States! She’ll definitely help show off what an elite college we are. Let’s admit her so other colleges can’t have her!”
It’s her percentile, the number of students that she outperformed, not her raw score, that will provide this girl with great odds when it comes to college apps. It’s not because she took an “easier” test and scored high-ly, but really because she scored high-er than the students that were competing for her slot.
My conclusion: It’s actually the SAT that’s better than the ACT
I’ve worked on both tests full time for almost 4 years, and I’ve concluded that I prefer the SAT by a large margin for myself and for all of my students.
If everyone was getting perfect scores on the ACT, just because the test was “easier” than the SAT, then colleges would simply require a new test to assess the differences between students, or place a higher value on the SAT, since a perfect score on a harder test would be more impressive.
So that’s that… in my experience, students and parents really overthink the ACT vs. SAT question.
That means, if you’re asking yourself “Should I take the ACT or SAT,” or “Is the ACT or SAT easier,” my response would be:
Stop worrying and START STUDYING!