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by Nina C. Heckler, PhD

Which standardized test should I take—the ACT or the SAT?  As a college planner, I get this question daily.  The answer depends on your strengths.  Ninety-nine percent of colleges and universities take one or both tests.  Let’s start with the basics. 

The format for the test is similar.  The ACT is 2 hours and 55 minutes without the essay, and 3 hours and 55 minutes with the essay. The SAT is 3 hours without the essay, and 3 hours and 50 minutes with the essay.  Most professional college planners recommend that you take an essay section at least once. The ACT begins with a 45-minute English test. Then you move on to an hour Math test where you can use a calculator. Reading and Science follow at 35 minutes each, and the optional Essay closes out the test.  The SAT begins with a 65 minute Reading test. Next is a 35-minute Writing and Language test, followed by two Math tests (25 minutes without a calculator and then 55 minutes with a calculator), and finishing with a 50-minute optional essay. 

The ACT uses a composite score to give students an overall ACT score. Your overall composite score ranges from 1 to 36 and is an average of your scores on each of the multiple-choice sections. You’ll also receive your individual section scores, which range from 1 to 36 as well, but for most colleges, it’s the composite score that counts.  The SAT is scored in a range between 400 and 1600. This is based on adding your Reading/Writing score, which is between 200 and 800, and your Math score, also from 200 to 800, together. Note that even though there are three main multiple-choice sections to the SAT—Reading, Writing, and Math—Reading and Writing are combined into one score out of 800. This is different from the old SAT, on which students received a score out of 800 on each of the three sections, meaning the highest score on the old SAT was 2400. 

Registration for each test opens roughly a month prior at or

You may prefer the ACT if:  (1) you are a fast reader and detail-oriented, (2) you are good at mental math and finding shortcuts, (3) you like science and are good at interpreting tables and graphs and connecting information, (4) you prefer easier reading passages, and (5) you are good at winning arguments. You may prefer the SAT if: (1) you are good at reading the classics and understanding historical documents, (2) you are good at doing math by hand ( SAT has a no calculator section), (3) you enjoy informational graphics in reading passages, and (4) you are good at analyzing text. 

I recommend that students take a practice test of each to see which one they score better. Not only are college admissions based heavily on these standardized scores but so are scholarships. I cannot stress enough the importance of obtaining the highest scores possible by the October test of the senior year.  The average student takes these tests four times to obtain their best score.  The higher the score the less out of pocket expenses are incurred for college.  Quest 2 College offers preparation classes for both tests to help increase scores.  These prep courses provide students with the opportunity to take several complete tests, which helps to identify weaknesses so we can work on those specific areas. We help students to maximize their time and resources to increase scores. If you are interested in getting scholarship money for college, the best way is to make the highest score possible on these standardized tests.


Dr. Heckler is here to help your student with all of your college preparation needs.

Call us at 731.868.4688 or email us at

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