Taking both tests, whether because of school requirements or personal preference, has become an increasingly common choice for students, especially those applying to top colleges. Though it isn’t necessary to take both the ACT and SAT, doing so might be the right plan for you. This guide will walk you through the pro and cons of taking both tests.
Key Fact: Schools Only Require the ACT or the SAT, Not Both
No school will require you to submit scores from both tests, so you definitely don’t need to take both the ACT and the SAT.
Keep in mind that, regardless of what you might have heard to the contrary, all schools accept both the ACT and the SAT. Though in the past selective colleges on the coasts generally preferred the SAT, that hasn’t been the case for decades.
I would say that for most students it’s not worth the time investment to prepare for both tests, but read on for all the information you need to make the best decision for yourself.
3 Reasons You Might Want to Take Both Tests
There are three potential benefits to taking both the ACT and the SAT: you’ll have an extra chance to excel, prepping for one can help you do better on the other, and some schools may appreciate seeing both scores.
You’ll Have More Opportunities to Do Well
The most common reason students take both the ACT and the SAT is in case they can score much better on one than other. The majority of students will score similarly on both tests, but it can be tricky to determine whether you’re one of the exceptions without trying both tests.
Nonetheless, there are some general patterns to which students prefer which tests. Students who have strong affinity for the ACT generally:
- Aren’t stressed by time pressures
- Excel at skimming passages for information
- Enjoy science, or at least aren’t intimidated by it
- Are comfortable with geometry and trigonometry
Students who prefer the SAT, on the other hand, usually:
- Aren’t confused by complicated question phrasings
- Can do basic calculations by hand
- Can easily explain the logic behind their answers
One benefit of this approach is that if you do score much higher one either the ACT or the SAT, you can always choose to send the only the scores from the test you did better on — even if a school doesn’t have score choice.
The Tests Are Quite Similar, so Preparing for One Will Help You on the Other
The SAT redesign made the two tests more similar than ever. Because there’s a lot of overlap between content and strategies for the ACT and the SAT, prepping for one will help you on the other as well.
For example, studying for the ACT science section will help you hone graph reading skills that will come in handy on the SAT’s quantitative reasoning and data representation questions. On the other hand, reviewing the grammar rules you need for the SAT Writing will be equally good preparation for the ACT English.
However, if you do plan to prepare for both, be sure to start studying well ahead of when you want to be done with testing. You’ll need to spend some extra time learning about whichever test you decide to take second.
Taking Both Can Provide Extra Information for Schools
As I mentioned above, most students who take both tests are applying to more selective schools, which sometimes appreciate the extra information. Doing extremely well on both tests is slightly more impressive than doing equally well on just one.
Janet Rapelye, Princeton’s dean of admissions, told the New York Times that submitting both tests isn’t necessary, but it can be helpful. “For us, more information is always better. If students choose one or the other, that’s fine, because both tests have value. But if they submit both, that generally gives us a little more information,” she says.
Though the tests are very similar, and treated the same by admissions committees, they do test slightly different ideas and concepts. Taking both gives schools the fullest sense of your capabilities, but keep in mind any advantage submitting both tests gives you is relatively minor.
On Part II, we will discuss why taking both tests might not be worth it and how to choose between the SAT and the ACT.