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Are you better at the ACT or SAT? Find out for sure!

Posted by Dr. Fred Zhang | Aug 9, 2014 1:48:00 AM

SAT versus ACT



Colleges take both the ACT and SAT, and there are many differences between the two.  How do you tell which one is best for you?  In this article, Dr. Fred Zhang, 99th percentile scorer on both the SAT and ACT, gives you a surefire way.


The Gold Standard of Deciding Between the ACT and SAT

There are so many differences between the ACT and the SAT that, empirically, it is difficult to predict beforehand if you'll be better at one than the other.  The method I'm going to describe is the best way to be sure of seeing how you'll do on the SAT or ACT. 

You can use this information in many ways: to figure out what test to study, to see which scholarships you should apply to, and so forth.  Once you've used this method, you don't have to guess.

What's the method?  It's to take both a real practice SAT and a real practice ACT.

Who Should Use This Method?

Taking practice tests is called the gold standard for a reason -- it gives super precise information, but it's also time consuming.  You should definitely use this method and not just guess which test is better if one of the following applies to you.

A. You Plan to study more than 40 hours for the test.  If you're going to focus on studying seriously, especially for more than 40 hours, doesn't it make sense you're spending it studying for the right test?  Conversely, if you have fewer than 40 hours left, say only 20, you should probably not spend 8 hours figuring out what test to take.

B. You care about your scores and are generally willing to invest the effort to get the best score.  This method is good not only in telling if you're better at the ACT or SAT, but also is good practice in and of itself.  If you're serious about the SAT or ACT, it would be a mistake not to do this.

How do I use this method to find out whether I'm better at the ACT or SAT?

Step 1. Take a full practice SAT and a full practice ACT.  

Get a real ACT practice test and a real SAT practice test (you can click on the links to get 3 of each for free).  Make sure to choose one that you have not already used.  Also, ideally, you should create a realistic testing environment with a timer, calculator, watch, and a quiet room.

Now schedule four hours on two separate days to take the practice tests.   You want to take them on separate days so that you're not more awake for one than the other.  

Most important of all, make sure your testing environment is similar on both days.  The comparisons will not be valid if you take one at 10AM in a quiet library with plenty of sleep, and another at 8PM in a noisy house after eating a heavy meal.

Step 2. Convert Your ACT Score to an SAT Score

Now that you have both scores, use the first table on the official ACT to SAT score conversion table to convert your ACT score to its SAT equivalent.  This score is now comparable to your SAT Reading and Math score (out of 1600).

Example 1: Mary got a 30 on her practice ACT.  She uses the table above to convert this to 1340.  Mary got a 1780 out of 2400 on her SAT, with a 620 on Critical Reading and a 580 on Math.  Thus, her SAT Reading and Math subscore is 1200.

Step 3: Make The Call

If your score difference is more than 100 points in either direction, then you have a clear winner.  You have done substantially better on one test than the other.  You know which one you are better at!  Moreover, a-100 point difference is substantial, and colleges will reward you for the better score.

Example 2: Continuing from Example 1 above, Mary's comparable ACT score is 1340, while her comparable SAT score is 1200.  This means her ACT score is 140 points better than her SAT.  She is definitely better on the ACT.

If your score difference is less than 100 points, then you don't have a natural disadvantage on either test.  The point difference is likely due to chance, and you could study equally well for either test.


Now you know how to precisely figure out whether you are better at the SAT or ACT!

What’s next? 

Get 3 authentic practice SATs from us, and 3 authentic practice ACTs.  Save it now and use it later!

Don't have time to use the gold standard?  Use our quick method to find out if you're better at the SAT or ACT.

Read about the nitty gritty technical details about differences between the SAT and ACT.

Get Sample Lesson



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Dr. Fred Zhang
About the Author

Fred is co-founder of PrepScholar. He scored a perfect score on the SAT and is passionate about sharing information with aspiring students. Fred graduated from Harvard University with a Bachelor's in Mathematics and a PhD in Economics.

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