Door 1 or Door 2: The SAT or the ACT?

This article is slated to be updated with the latest college testing information. For more updated information, please refer to our 2023 and 2024 articles.

Great news! Unlike the game show set-up, behind either door lies a prize: the chance for your student to impress the socks off the nice folks in higher-ed admissions. With the bewildering array of choices scattered along the pathway to college acceptance, this is one area in which you can’t make a terribly wrong move. And what a relief that is.

That being said, there is little reason to take both tests. The overwhelming majority of schools require just one. Since this is so, it is logical to ask if one exam is preferable to the other. Officially, the answer is no: the vast majority of colleges accept either SAT or ACT results. Nevertheless, there is a marked trend toward the latter. Beginning in 2012, more students took the ACT than its counterpart, effectively reversing a pattern that had been in place since the inception of both assessments.

Indeed, this shift has been so pronounced that I encounter very little demand for SAT assistance. In my view, there are two primary reasons for this. Unlike the SAT that measures student aptitude, the ACT gauges student knowledge at a pivotal point in the high school tenures. This distinction, coupled with the fact that the test far surpasses the SAT in the range of subject matter it assesses, enables schools to gain a more realistic sense of candidates’ skill levels. Simply stated, the ACT allows decisionmakers to see a clearer picture of a student than what the SAT allows.

This is still a choice with two worthy options. However–and this is the clincher–if you reside anywhere in Illinois, your student is going to have to take the ACT anyway. And with that,  any remaining indecision one might have vanished with the stroke of the politician’s pen. While it has long been the preferred choice of test-takers in the Midwest, Illinois lawmakers have recently mandated that every high school student take the ACT in his or her junior year in order to graduate. And that is not all; several other states have joined Illinois in requiring ACT completion as a condition of graduation.

So what do we know? We know that large numbers of college hopefuls will have to prepare for the ACT regardless of personal preference. We know that the vast majority of colleges accept both the ACT and the SAT. We know that, for a variety of reasons, many of those colleges prefer the ACT.

We know enough to choose the right door.



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