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Taking Both the ACT and SAT

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One common question that I get from students is whether they should take both the ACT and SAT. In most situations, the answer is “no.” Virtually all colleges accept both exams, and while the tests are more similar than they have ever been before, there are still important differences in test format and content between the ACT and SAT. Therefore, we generally recommend that students choose the exam that will be the best fit for them and work on becoming as good at that exam as possible.


However, there are some circumstances where you might need to consider taking both tests. These include applying to two different colleges, one which only accepts ACT scores and the other which only accepts SAT scores. In addition, some scholarships only accept a certain score on a certain exam. Finally, you might find that neither exam plays to your strengths to a greater degree than the other one does. These situations are rare, but they do happen.  If you do need or want to take both the ACT and SAT, here are three things to keep in mind.


Space out the test dates as much as possible

If possible, try to avoid taking the ACT and SAT during the same semester. It’s best to take one of the exams in the spring and the other in the fall. Try to register for the earliest date in each semester for the respective exam that you plan to take. That way you will have the option of retaking the ACT or SAT before moving on to the other exam. If that is not feasible, at least try to spread out your ACT and SAT test dates within a semester.


Consolidate studying

The ACT and SAT have significant overlap in test format and content. Accordingly, it is a good idea to begin by studying the sections of the exams that have the most in common. The obvious place to start is with ACT English and SAT Writing. These two sections are virtually identical in design and execution. The ACT and SAT Math sections cover most of the same concepts, although the overall formats and exact distribution of questions differ. Reading should probably be next on your list. The formats of ACT and SAT Reading are similar, although the types of questions on the SAT tend to be a bit more in depth.


You should probably save ACT Writing, SAT Essay, and ACT Science for last. The ACT and SAT ask you to write completely different types of essays (persuasive vs. analytical), and there is no equivalent to the ACT Science section on the SAT.


Make sure you have the right calculator

The ACT and SAT have different lists of “approved” calculators for the exam. Before you begin studying, double check that the calculator you plan to study with is allowed on both exams. You don’t want to spend weeks getting comfortable with a calculator for one of the tests, only to find that you can’t use it on the next.

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