Published On: Tuesday, December 27, 2022|Categories: Education Info, Testing Strategies|

Applying to college is an exciting time, but it can come with an overwhelming number of questions. How many applications should you submit? Which schools should you consider? What field of study should you choose? For most students, the first question they encounter is which entrance exam they should take: the ACT or the SAT? These two tests are actually very similar. Read on to discover their similarities and differences to decide which is best for you.


The ACT, or American College Testing exam, measures students’ readiness via a three-hour test that uses a scoring scale of 36. Unlike the SAT, the ACT includes a science section. This section is designed to evaluate critical thinking skills, not specific scientific knowledge. In other words, it doesn’t test what you know about science, but rather how you are able to approach and solve scientific problems through reason. The structure of the ACT is as follows: English, math, reading, science reasoning, and an optional essay. If you opt to write the essay, the total length of the test will be 3 hours and 40 minutes. The math section of the ACT evaluates your skills in arithmetic, algebra I & II, geometry, trigonometry, and probability and statistics. Unlike the SAT, the ACT allows students to use a calculator on all math problems.


The SAT, once known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test, is similar in scope to the ACT. Like the ACT, the evaluation is three hours long. Unlike the ACT, the SAT does not include a scientific reasoning section and there is no essay, optional or otherwise. It uses a scoring scale of 1600. The structure of the SAT is as follows: reading, writing & language, and math. The math evaluation covers arithmetic, algebra I & II, geometry, trigonometry, and data analysis. It includes one section in which you may not use a calculator.

Choosing the Test for You

Both the ACT and the SAT cover similar topics are completed in similar timeframes, and neither is harder than the other. So how does one choose between the two? You don’t necessarily have to choose. Many students decide to take both. If you prefer to take one or the other, it is a good idea to take a full-length, timed practice test of each to see which one feels like a better fit.

Submitting Your SAT and ACT Scores

After all the hard work of preparing for and taking the SAT, ACT, or both, it seems a no-brainer that you would immediately submit your scores to all of your prospective schools. It is advisable, however, to review your scores rather than requesting that they be sent straight to your prospective schools. If you feel you could do better in a particular subject, you can always take the test again. Many schools will “super score” your test results, taking the highest score in each category from all the times you have taken each test. While many colleges require either the SAT or ACT, other schools are adopting “test optional,” “test blind,” or “test flexible” policies in increasing numbers. The test acceptance policy of each college will determine whether or not you should report to it.

Test-Optional & Test-Flexible Colleges

Test-optional colleges allow prospective students to submit their scores if they choose. These colleges will consider the scores during the admissions process, but they tend to weigh other factors more heavily. Test flexible colleges leave it up to the student which tests they want to submit. These colleges accept the ACT and SAT, but will also consider AP tests and the Baccalaureate. While not required, the scores are considered in the application process.

When deciding whether to submit your scores to test optional or test flexible schools, consider the average score of applicants. If your score is in the 50% range or higher of most applicants, it is a good idea to submit your scores. If your score falls under the 50% range, it would be wise to either refrain from sending the score or to retake the test and attempt to increase your score before reporting it to the prospective school.

Test Blind Colleges

Unlike test-optional and test-flexible colleges, test-blind colleges simply don’t consider the scores as part of the application evaluation. Students may submit them, but they neither help nor hurt in the application process. In this case, sending your score won’t help your application chances, so it might be wiser to save the reporting fee.

Learn More About the SAT and ACT

Fun fact: there is a strong correlation between lower student-teacher ratios and higher SAT scores. Here at The Tenney School, our 2:1 student-teacher ratio provides the tailored learning and personalized attention students need to reach their potential. Contact us today to learn more about our admissions process!

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