Because colleges accept both the ACT and SAT, it can be had to figure out which test to take. The changes to the SAT in 2016 made the two tests more similar than ever, although there are still some significant differences in content and format between the two tests.
So how can you tell if you'll do better on the SAT or ACT? Drawing on my experience as a 99 percentile scorer on both the SAT and ACT, I'll give you a surefire way to figure out which test will result in the best outcome for you.
The Gold Standard of Deciding Between the ACT and SAT
There are enough 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 about which test you'll perform better on. However, taking two full-length practice tests is also time consuming. You should definitely use this method if one of the following applies to you:
#1: You're Studying for 40+ Hours
If you're going to focus on studying seriously, especially for more than 40 hours, it make sense to make sure you're spending it studying for the right test. Conversely, if you have fewer than 40 hours left (for example, only 20 hours), you should probably not spend 8 hours figuring out what test to take.
#2: You're Willing to Invest Time and Energy in Studying
If you care about your scores and are generally willing to invest the effort to get the best score, then taking a realistic practice SAT and a realistic practice ACT is a must. This method is not only good for telling if you're better at the ACT or SAT, but is also 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 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 rested 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 our ACT to SAT score conversion tools and tables to convert your ACT score to its SAT equivalent.
Example: Mary got a 29 on her practice ACT. She uses the table linked above to convert this to 1360. Mary got a 1200 out of 1600 on her SAT.
Step 3: Compare Your Scores and 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.
Continuing from the example above, Mary's ACT score is equivalent to a 1360 SAT score, while her SAT score is 1200. This means her ACT score is 160 points better than her SAT. She is definitely better at 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 for and score equally well on either test.
Now you know how to precisely figure out whether you are better at the SAT or ACT!
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.
Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:
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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.