Pamela K. Pik College Consulting, LLC • 30 Old Kings Highway South, Darien, CT 06820 • 203.984.6837 •
Pamela K. Pik College Consulting, LLC


One of the first things that a student  asks me is “Should I take the SAT or the ACT, or both?  Which do you think I will perform better on?”

There is no clear-cut, on-the-money answer, but there are distinct differences between the two assessments.  By understanding these differences, you can determine which test might suit your testing style best.  Here is what Lynn Carnegie, owner of Carnegie Pollak Test Prep says:

“The SAT tends to reward abstract, conceptual verbal and math reasoning.  Students who have a well-developed vocabulary and who are adept at closely reading text, as well as students who can apply mathematical principles to unfamiliar problems generally feel more comfortable with this test.  The ACT, on the other hand, rewards speed, short-term memory, and the application of previously learned content.  Students who are quick readers and problem solvers, along with those who possess a firm grasp of grammar, math, and science content tend to have greater success with the ACT.”

The SAT is a good test for the voracious reader, as the vocabulary is more difficult.  Both the SAT and ACT have Reading, Math and Writing/Grammar sections.  The ACT also contains a Science section, which does not test science facts learned in high school courses, but rather how to read charts and graphs that measure and predict.

One way to “practice” each test without having to sit for the entire, multi-hour exam, is to take the PSAT (for the SAT) and the PLAN (for the ACT), short-version predictive tests administered at your high school in 10th or fall of 11th grade.  By comparing the scores on each test and converting them to a grid, you can see which test works better for you.  There is also an online diagnostic for each, which can be purchased and downloaded from College Planning Partnerships at

Here are two common questions that are asked about these two tests:

  • Do certain colleges prefer one over the other?  I have heard that the SAT is more valued by selective schools.
  • No, that is not the case.  In every information session I have attended, the admissions rep emphasized that they accept either test equally, so send the best of the two if you have taken both.
  • Isn’t it best to take the SAT and the ACT both, as many times as possible?
  • In most cases, that is not the best strategy.  You will save a lot of time and effort by figuring out which test is best for you, and taking it one or two times.  With diligent preparation for one test and bringing your “A game”, you will likely do your best on that first test.  If not, work on the areas where you are weakest and try again.
  • What is “superscore” and which colleges superscore the SAT and ACT?
    – Superscore simply means taking the best score from each section of the SAT or ACT, and coming up with a total best score.  More and more colleges are using that method, but not all.  The list of superscoring colleges changes each year, and I try to keep up to date with it.

Interestingly, in 2013, more U.S. students took the ACT than the SAT for the first time ever.  The College Board, which designs, administers and scores the SAT, has announced that it will redesign this test “to strongly focus on the core knowledge and skills that evidence shows are most important for students to prepare for the rigors of college and career.”  There is unconfirmed speculation that these changes are a reflection of increased competition with the ACT.

This revamped SAT is estimated to roll out in the Spring of 2016.