Disclaimer: This article is for the 2005 SAT. Click here to learn about the new, 2016 SAT.
Take eight hundred people. Put ’em in a park together. Ask them to stare at a single cloud. Ask them what it looks like.
Do you think everyone will see the same thing?
Of course not! You’ve heard it before, and it’s true–everyone’s brain works in a different way.
And since the SAT and ACT test different ways of thinking, you might be suited to one test over another.
So if you find yourself wondering, “Should I take the SAT or the ACT?”, never fear. Here’s a basic guide to help you figure out the best possible fit for you!
Do you consider yourself “higher in IQ”?
Before I dive into this one, I’ll ask…what is IQ, anyway? Well, in general, IQ is the ability to solve problems using information that’s just handed to you on a plate.
THIS IS IMPORTANT.
A lot of times, people who have a huge pile of learned information stored away in their brains are held up as people with really high IQ’s.
In other words, if you can recite an entire book of poetry, name all the city capitals in Africa, and knit a sweater using eight different types of stitches, people will probably look at you and say “Whoa! Your IQ must be, like, three hundred!”
But…that’s all learned information. You can sit down, flip open a book, study it, and pack that knowledge away in your brain, no matter what your IQ is.
A question to test your IQ would be something along the lines of, “List every use for a toothpick you can think of.”
Or you’ll have to solve a puzzle.
You’ll have to step around tricks.
In general, they’ll give you pieces you’ve never seen before, and you’ll need to play with them–pick them up, twist them around, and set them back down to find the answer.
And overall, that’s how the SAT is structured. Its questions are a little trickier to figure out, and it doesn’t test outside knowledge as much as the ACT does.
So if you’ve always thought of yourself as classically “higher in IQ,” and you know you’re good at figuring things out on the fly…the SAT might be a good fit for you!
Do you enjoy puzzles?
Like we just talked about, SAT questions are designed to make it a little tricky to figure out the answer. But if you love doing puzzles, crosswords, riddles, etc…this might be just fine.
Maybe you haven’t ever thought of yourself as having a high IQ. It just hasn’t crossed your mind.
But, maybe you know that your brain is fantastic at navigating around tricks and false leads.
If that sounds like you, go with that, and head towards the SAT, where you can put your puzzlin’ brain to good use!
This trick won’t help you much on the ACT, though, since those questions are more straightforward, and rely a little more on outside knowledge.
Do you like science?
This is more or less common sense. What’s something the ACT has that the SAT doesn’t? Anyone? Anyone?
A science section.
That’s right. The ACT has an entire section entirely devoted to science. Some things covered on the science section:
- Basic Science Knowledge (Physics, Chemistry, Biology)
- Data Representation: analysis, interpreting trends, and calculations based on data
- Research Summaries, including:
- Experimental design/Researcher intent
- Hypothetical Experimental changes
- Interpreting experiments
- Understanding of viewpoints
- Comparing viewpoints
In all honesty, you don’t have to know anything about the finer points of science to do well on the ACT science section, because it’s meant to test your ability to read and reason through a particular set of facts.
But since the ACT is also more based around class knowledge, having a little bit of a science background certainly won’t hurt.
So if you get giddy at the thought of chemistry, biology, or physics, or you’re dying to go to med school, or if you do science experiments on weekends…well, then you’ll have a major advantage on the ACT. Play up your strengths! Do what you love!
And, of course, it goes without saying that if science makes you sick, you might want to sidestep it, and head for the SAT instead.
Do you enjoy vocab?
The ACT and the SAT both test vocabulary…sort of.
Actually, the ACT doesn’t have a separate vocabulary section, or a fill-in-the-blank section like the SAT does. Instead, the ACT just inserts their vocab words into the questions. So, of course, it’s helpful to know what the questions are asking.
But if you’re really great with vocab, and you know you could blast through the SAT vocab section, picking out correct meanings for words and filling in sentences, then put your strengths to good use, and focus on the SAT.
Is math your thing?
Both the ACT and the SAT test math. But in addition to all the sections of math that the SAT tests, the ACT also focuses on:
- Conic Sections
- Complex numbers
Also, the ACT doesn’t provide a formula sheet like the SAT does.
So, what does this mean? Well, if you’re really excellent with math, and your brain clicks along through trigonometry, consider drifting towards the ACT.
If you need a little extra help, stick with the SAT, and start memorizing your SAT math strategies!
Do you work better with shorter sections or longer sections?
This is where knowing your attention span comes into play. The ACT always has four sections (unless you’re writing the optional essay):
- English (45 mins)
- Math (60 mins)
- Reading (35 mins)
- Science (35 mins)
- OPTIONAL: Writing (30 mins)
Look at these time chunks. Be really, truly honest with yourself. Can you stay focused for 45 minutes? Can you do math problems for a solid hour? Or do you find yourself drifting off about halfway in?
If you can stay focused for that period of time, fantastic! You’ll be fine on the ACT.
But if you know that a 60-minute math section will do you in, take a closer look at the SAT timed sections:
- Critical Reading (two 25-minute sections, one 20-minute section)
- Math (two 25-minute sections, one 20-minute section)
- Writing (one 25-minute essay, one 25-minute section, one 10-minute section)
If 25 minutes sounds a little more in line with your attention span, consider putting your studying efforts towards the SAT!
Are you better in class than on tests?
With its tricky, strategy-based questions, the SAT is definitely skewed to help good test-takers succeed. If tests aren’t a big deal for you, and you have a pretty good feel for decoding typical questions, you should be fine on the SAT.
But maybe you’re much better at just learning class material. Maybe you do homework and study faithfully.
Maybe you have a pretty good feel for everything you’ve learned in your high school classes…and you look at test questions and think, “WHY? I just want to tell you the answer! I know how many watermelons belong in the basket! I’m sick of all these tricks!”
And if that sounds like you, you’ll love the ACT.
If you’re looking for a test where your class knowledge will really come into play, stick with the ACT. It covers a broader range of material, and those extra hours of studying will absolutely help you answer questions faster and more accurately.
So basically, take a minute. Take a deep breath. Really look at yourself, and figure out what applies to you. And consider the SAT if:
- You consider yourself higher in IQ.
- You love puzzles.
- You like vocab.
- You work better with many shorter sections.
And on the flip side, head towards the ACT if:
- You really like science.
- You’re excellent in math.
- You consider yourself better in class than on tests.
- You work better with fewer, longer sections.
And no matter which direction you take, you’ll be fantastic.
Which test are you going to take? Let us know in the comments!
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