Should I Take Both the SAT and the ACT?

While studying for the SAT or ACT, some applicants think, why not take both tests? I just want to see how I do—what’s the harm? 

While wanting to maximize your admissions chances is a wise impulse, we strongly recommend that you only take one standardized test. Here are three reasons for why you should only take one or the other:

1.) Colleges Only Require One Test

Go to any university’s website and take a look at its requirements for application; they’ll read “submit SAT or ACT scores.” Notice the choice of coordinating conjunction: ‘or,’ not ‘and.’ Universities never require both, so opting to take both the SAT and the ACT is not worthwhile. 

The good news is that universities have no preference for one test over the other. Furthermore, it’s likely your skill set naturally aligns with one test more than the other. That is the test you should take.

Speaking of which…

Harvard's Admissions Requirements. "SAT or ACT..."

2.) Not All Tests Are Created Equal

Long distance running and powerlifting both require strenuous physical effort, but would you train for them the same way? Writing memoir and poetry both demand incredible creative discipline, but does the writing process look identical for both? The ACT and SAT are both tests of academic aptitude, but do they operate in the same way?

The answer for these questions is a resounding no. While both tests are meant to measure similar academic abilities, they do so through different means. The types of questions, the time per section, and number of questions per section are different. The ACT has a Science section, and the SAT doesn’t. The length of the tests overall, and therefore the energy and concentration you’ll need, differs quite a lot. In short, though these two exams do some things similarly, they’re not interchangeable, and your study habits should look very different depending on which test you choose.

Most importantly, don’t bite off more than you can chew because…

3.) Standardized Tests Aren’t Everything

Sky-high test scores do wonders for bolstering your admissions chances, as well as scholarship applications. But at the same time, they’re just one component of the application. In addition to your scores, colleges consider your GPA, class standing, leadership experience, application essays, and the number of AP and Honors courses you take. Why waste time and energy preparing for two exams when you could be taking more AP courses, or writing several drafts of a narrative essay that will set you apart from the crowd

In other words, don’t create more work for yourself! Juggling your training for just one test alongside schoolwork, extracurriculars, and volunteer opportunities will be challenging. Vanguard’s Grammar curriculum alone can take between six and ten months to complete. With admissions becoming more competitive each year, it’s imperative that you distribute your time and effort equally, and take care of yourself along the way.

Looking for more guidance as you traverse the tricky terrain of the college application process? Learn more about our college counseling services here!

Ari M.
Senior Instructor
University of New Mexico, MFA
Pennsylvania State University, BA

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