Why take the ACT, anyway? All About America’s Most Popular Test

by | Dec 6, 2017

For many prospective college students, the vast list of application requirements and considerations can be overwhelming. What extracurricular activities will best show your personality? What should you write in your essay? Should you apply early action, early decision, or regular decision? Among these questions, students also must decide which college entrance exam they’ll take—the ACT or SAT.

The choice can be difficult, especially whereas the ACT is a relative newcomer to the college application scene. However, despite being the SAT’s junior by roughly 30 years, the ACT is now the most popular college entrance exam in the United States—and has been since 2012. Last year, more than 64 percent of high school grads took the exam. So, what’s the draw? Should you take it? Here are a few of the most common questions and answers about the ACT to consider before making your choice.


Is the ACT accepted everywhere? Do colleges prefer the SAT?

The short answer is “yes” to the first question and “no” to the second. The ACT is currently the most popular college entrance exam, and, as of 2007, it is accepted by all four-year colleges and universities. According to the nonprofit, its reach extends to all 50 states and more than 130 countries, with millions taking the ACT exam every year. In terms of preference, what happens behind closed doors in admissions rooms varies from school to school. Generally speaking, however, colleges do not—and should not—give preference to one exam over the other.


What’s the difference between the ACT and the SAT?

Today, there are actually very few major differences between the two tests, especially considering the changes incorporated into the new SAT. Both the ACT and SAT test reading, writing, and math skills to determine college readiness. Both feature an optional essay (though students should still take it on either exam, as many colleges do require essay scores). Both are roughly four hours long between the multiple choice portions and the essay.

One of the key differences is the ACT’s inclusion of a science portion. In fact, the ACT is the first and only exam to include such a section. Given that the ACT tests an additional subject in roughly the same amount of time, many students also find the pacing to be faster on the ACT than on the SAT. Additionally, the SAT features some math questions that don’t allow a calculator, while the ACT allows calculators for the entire math portion.


I thought taking the ACT or SAT depended on where you live?

This largely used to be the case, with the ACT historically favored in the Midwest and the South and the SAT favored on the East and West Coasts. However, with new policies and testing contracts, this is no longer the case. And, as mentioned, both tests are offered and accepted nationwide.


How can I decide which test to take?

Deciding which test to take really comes down to personal preference and performance. We encourage students to take practice tests and solve sample problems from both tests, offered on the SAT and ACT websites, to get a feel for which test they might prefer. Those who can work quickly or who have strong science skills may prefer the ACT, while those who are stronger in reading or prefer a little more time might prefer the SAT—but it’s really up to you. Given how similar the tests have become, preparing to take both is often a good choice. Our H3 courses have become popular options, allowing students to prepare for the ACT, SAT, and PSAT in a single effort.


Whichever test you take, preparation is key. To learn more about our test prep courses and college admissions counseling services, contact us.

Happy testing!