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SAT vs. ACT: Which Exam Is “Better?”

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

sat vs. actSAT vs. ACT: Which Exam Is “Better?”

A common question that families consider when their college-bound students are preparing for the SAT or ACT is “which test is better?” Or “are the ACT and SAT considered equally in the application review process?” There’s been a long-held myth that one test is favored over the other, however, that’s simply not the case.

The truth is that US colleges and universities review the SAT and ACT equally. The ACT and SAT are accepted at all US colleges and universities, as confirmed on both of their websites, and there’s no “preference” of one test over another. This is why it’s important for students to take the test that is the best-fit for their goals and abilities, rather than just taking one over the other based on common misconceptions about how college applications are reviewed. One test is not more difficult than the other, however, because of the content and formatting one test might be a better fit for a student over the other based on his or her test-taking abilities.

In fact, there is such a close connection of representation between the SAT and ACT that the College Board and the ACT began working together to publish a concordance table comparing the two examinations.

Most recently they published the Guide to the 2018 ACT/SAT Concordance to establish percentile groups for students (based on student scores) for both examinations. The updated 2018 concordance table has since replaced the 2016 Concordance table that was released shortly after the SAT overhaul.

Understanding Concordance

It is important to recognize when comparing percentiles, subscore performances do not seamlessly translate across the ACT and SAT. As you can see in the chart below, the ACT Science section is not considered when comparing the English Reading and Writing section of the SAT to the English and Reading sections of the ACT. Since the ACT Science section is essentially an additional reading comprehension piece (with science terminology), it’s difficult to cross-compare the English sections of both examinations. The math scores are more seamlessly converted from one exam to another, given that both exams only have “one” section to compare. However, given the different time restrictions on the exam, content-difficulty layout, and subtle differences in question composition, score conversions are never definite.

ACT Score SAT Score
ACT Composite SAT Total
ACT Mathematics SAT Math
ACT English & Reading SAT English Reading & Writing

Ultimately, due to the concordance tables, colleges are able to compare students that have taken either examination. With this being the case, it is most important for students to take diagnostics of both the SAT and the ACT to determine which examination best showcases their strengths. Although the differences between the examinations may be slight, variables such as pacing strategies, the wording of questions, and exam layouts can produce better results on one exam vs. another depending on the student.

Want to learn more about how SAT and ACT scores factor into the college admissions process? Download our free College Admissions Guide using the form below!


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