We get this question a lot from parents and students. The answer to whether your child should take the SAT or ACT will depend on a number of factors which I’ll talk about below.

Since the Covid pandemic, another option that has become more popular is whether to take either test at all. Many schools were forced into going test-optional, and the trend post-pandemic has been for these schools to remain test-optional. Some schools are even test-blind, where they don’t accept any standardized test scores at all.

So how does a student know which test is best?

First, let me quickly run through the differences between the SAT and the ACT.

Differences Between SAT and the ACT

While there are similarities between the SAT and ACT, the differences are great enough that they could impact your child’s score.

Here are some key differences to consider:


  • The SAT allows more time per question than the ACT. However, SAT questions, on average, are typically more challenging than ACT questions.
  • Instead of a Science section, the SAT has two Math sections (one section allows for using a calculator, the other section does not).
  • Math on the SAT is 50% of your total score compared to only 25% on the ACT. 
  • Test time: 3 hours
  • Total questions: 174
  • Scoring: on a scale of 400–1600


  • Has four sections and an optional essay section: English, Math, Reading, and Science.
  • The science section seeks to understand logical and critical thinking abilities by asking students to review passages with graphs, charts, and other data.
  • The ACT emphasizes geometry more than the SAT does: approximately 30% of the ACT math questions cover geometry, while at most 10% of the SAT math questions involve geometry.
  • A calculator is allowed on all the math questions.
  • Test time: 2 hours and 55 minutes
  • Total questions: 215
  • Scoring: on a scale of 1–36

Regarding the essay: The SAT no longer has an essay requirement, and the list of colleges requiring the ACT essay is very, very short, so it’s unlikely that you will have to write the ACT essay.

The SAT has more word problems and a more advanced reading section with more time per question than the ACT. So while both tests are about 3 hours, the ACT moves at a quicker pace.

How Practice Tests Can Help

The best way to determine which test best suits your teen is to take a sample or practice test.

During sophomore year, many students are given the opportunity to take either the PSAT or pre-ACT or both. Even if this is not offered at school, they can still take a practice ACT or SAT on their own.

Students are increasingly taking both to see where they score better, and each year, I work with students that take both the SAT and ACT. Some students receive similar scores on both tests. Others tend to do better on one test or the other.

As you can see, taking practice tests to identify your student’s strengths is a great way to help make a decision.

At Stodghill College Consulting, we offer a FREE opportunity for your teen to test drive the SAT and/or ACT online. 

Send us an email at kim@kimstodghilll.com if you’re interested in finding out more about this free opportunity.

Do Colleges Prefer the ACT or SAT?

All colleges accept both ACT and SAT test scores for admission. 

Some colleges also use these test scores as a consideration for awarding merit-based scholarships.

While colleges don’t prefer one test over the other, your child might, so the decision of which test to take is up to your teen based on their strengths and weaknesses.

Can Your Child Get Into College Without SAT or ACT Scores?

Yes! Since the Covid-19 pandemic, many schools have dropped the need to submit SAT and ACT results. 

Many schools have now adopted a test-optional policy, meaning you do not have to take either exam.

Schools are starting to place less and less emphasis on standardized test scores and more emphasis on overall course rigor, GPA, extracurricular involvement, leadership involvement, and essays.

In fact, in 2022, two-thirds of colleges didn’t require SAT/ACT scores. That includes elite institutions such as Harvard and Stanford. The University of California system has announced that it will be test-blind, permanently dropping standardized test scores as an admission requirement.

Follow us on Instagram: I go into more detail about this in a recent Instagram post.

Some students are not intimidated by standardized tests. But if testing is not a student’s strong suit, then I don’t want students to spend a lot of time and energy agonizing over it. 

Two caveats to be aware of:

  • Some test-optional schools will still use standardized test scores as a requirement for course placement and for merit-based scholarships.
  • Some test-blind schools may use standardized test scores as a requirement for course placement. 

It’s best to research the school and/or contact the admissions office to determine their requirements.

Maximizing Each Student’s Strengths

To determine whether the SAT or ACT is better suited for your child, we work extensively with each of them to explore their individual needs and develop a game plan for their testing requirements.

Some of the factors that we consider:

  • Their previous test scores (strengths and weaknesses)
  • Their personal test preference (since the tests are slightly different)
  • Their college list and which schools are test-optional, test-blind, and do any schools require test scores for merit scholarships and honors programs

If your child is not a strong test taker, there are many other ways we can maximize their opportunities.

Our strategy is to work with your child’s strengths and college list, and we strategize the best-individualized game plan. I go into more detail about this on my recent Facebook Live within my private Facebook group, “Teens to College.” 

If you’re not yet a member, click here to join the group, and then you can watch the Live video here.

Reach Out For a Discovery Call

If testing requirements sound confusing, reach out today for a free discovery call and let us help you navigate the college admissions process and make it less daunting and less stressful.