Should I Take Both the ACT® and SAT® Tests?

By Emily Brehe-Gunter

The college planning process can be stressful, and some families struggle with deciding which test to take. When it comes to college admissions testing in the U.S., there are two options: the ACT® test and the SAT® test. In most cases, students will submit scores from one of the tests alongside their college application. But are there benefits to taking both the ACT and SAT tests?

It is almost always in your best interest to take both, but we will explain when you might just take one. It really depends on the student and where he or she is in the college admissions process. Below, we identify some important factors to keep in mind when deciding to sign up for a test.

Debunking 4 Myths About Test Scores

First things first: It’s time to clear up some common misconceptions. Review the facts below to ensure you have the most accurate information regarding test scores.

Myth: Colleges require scores for both the ACT and the SAT tests

Fact: Most colleges will review scores from either the ACT or SAT tests (or both). But you don’t have to submit test scores from both tests. However, it could be beneficial to submit both if you have two sets of strong scores. The more information you provide to a college about your academic potential can help you maximize your chances of admission.

Myth: Test optional colleges do not look at test scores anymore

Fact: Test optional colleges will review test scores if you submit them as part of your application; however, test optional colleges do not have a test score requirement for admission. Keep in mind that test scores are often still a key factor when considering students for scholarships and placement in competitive degree programs.

Myth: Colleges prefer the SAT test over the ACT test (or vice versa).

Fact: Colleges do not prefer one test over the other. Scores from either test can be submitted with your application.

Myth: The SAT test is easier than the ACT test (or vice versa).

Fact: The SAT and ACT tests are very similar, and the level of difficulty for each test varies depending on a student’s strengths and weaknesses. However, the SAT test gives you more time but asks higher-level questions, while the ACT test has more questions with less time but is more straightforward. The best way to determine the test on which you’ll perform the best is to take both tests. Both the ACT and SAT tests provide students with a detailed score report that you can use to determine which test focuses more on your strengths.

6 Reasons Why You Should Take Both the ACT and SAT Tests

1. You’ll have more opportunities to reach your score goal

Because the level of difficulty for each test varies depending on a student’s testing abilities, it can be a challenge to truly know which test will result in the highest score before trying both. In other words, a student maximizes his or her chances of earning an above-average score by taking both the ACT or SAT tests.

If you struggle with earning a top-tier score on one of the tests, it may be time to give the other test a try. While the ACT and SAT tests are very similar, they do have some fundamental differences in terms of content and question format. In another post, we explain the key differences between the ACT and SAT tests.

Scores for both tests usually arrive a few weeks after the test date. Both tests include a score report that breaks down how you performed on each section of the tests. The tests follow different scoring scales, so use a score concordance chart to compare your results.

2. An excellent score on both tests could give you a competitive advantage

Earning outstanding test scores on both ACT and SAT tests can be a challenge, but with a consistent prep schedule, it is attainable. If you accomplish this, it may be a good idea for you to submit both scores.

If you plan to apply to colleges with a very high level of competition (like Ivy League colleges), you’ll want to do everything you can to build the perfect college application. By submitting exceptional scores for both tests, you may have an advantage over students who only submitted one score.

Before submitting both scores, look at the ACT and SAT score ranges for recently admitted students. This information is often available on the college’s website or Common Data Set.

3. More flexibility when choosing test dates

If we’ve learned anything about testing over the past couple of years, it’s that you should plan ahead, especially when it comes to choosing test dates.

If you plan on taking both the ACT and SAT tests, then you’ll have more test dates from which to choose. Both tests have seven Saturday test dates per year, although the December administrations often fall on the same day.

By opening up your testing plan to include both tests, you’ll have more opportunities to test. This level of flexibility is especially important to rising seniors who may only have a handful of test dates left before college applications are due.

4. Preparing for one test will prepare you for the other

Both the ACT and SAT tests are college admissions tests that evaluate your understanding of verbal and math concepts taught in high school. While the two tests are not identical, preparing for one will help you prepare for the other.

You won’t have to spend long hours studying for the SAT test and then have to repeat the same process for the ACT test. Since preparation for either test is relatively similar, you may consider signing up to take both tests to see how you perform on both.

Taking both tests is most ideal for students who start testing early on in 10th or 11th grade. These students typically have much more time to study for the tests. If your student is nearing the end of his or her 11th grade year, you may need to focus on preparing for just one of the tests. We explain this more in depth below.

At KD College Prep, our test prep programs prepare students for both the ACT and SAT tests, as well as for the PSAT test. Our core lessons cover content and testing strategies for all three tests, and we offer additional bonus lessons to teach students the unique content found on the ACT test (like the science section and more advanced math concepts). Our programs also include a wide variety of practice tests for the PSAT, SAT, and ACT tests.

5. Colleges won’t penalize you for taking both tests

College admissions officers won’t look at your application negatively if you take both tests. So if you have time to prepare for both tests, what is there to lose by taking both?

6. Planning to take both tests will give you a backup plan if something goes wrong

We can’t always predict what will happen in the hours leading up to the test. Your car could break down, you could get sick, or you could forget your calculator.

The nice thing about signing up to take both tests is that you’ll have another test date to fall back on if your day doesn’t go as planned.

What if I don’t have time to prepare for and take both the ACT and SAT tests?

Once you’ve reached the end of your junior year of high school, chances are that you are in a rush to finish testing before submitting your college applications. We typically recommend that a student finish testing by the end of 11th grade, but not every student reaches their target score in that timeframe.

If your test is tomorrow, then it’s probably too late to start preparing. But if you have a couple months until test day, then you may still have a chance to make a significant impact on your score.

Since the ACT and SAT tests are only offered on a few specific dates, you are probably very limited to which days you can take the tests. Maybe due to extracurriculars and challenging classes, you can only spend one Saturday taking the test. So what do you do?

First, you find out which remaining summer and fall test dates will work with your schedule.

For example, let’s say you’re a senior, and it’s the middle of September. You’re trying to sign up for the next available test date. You have a debate tournament the weekend of the upcoming ACT test, so you can’t test then. However, you’re available on the October SAT test date. Since your first college application is due Nov. 1st, the decision is made for you: you’ll take the SAT test.

Second, find out which test aligns best with your strengths and weaknesses.

If you’re not sure which test is best for you, you can take a free official practice test online to find out! Both the ACT and SAT tests each offer one free official practice test on their websites. KD College Prep also offers multiple practice tests for both tests through our test prep programs. Each KD practice test is followed up with a score report and an instructor-led review.

Third, start prepping! It’s crunch time, and you need to make the most of it!

We offer the On-Demand Core Program which allows students to prepare for the ACT and SAT tests at their own pace. This program is ideal for students who only have a short period of time left to prepare for tests.

Lastly, show up ready for test day.

This is your last shot at earning your target test score. Make sure you’re doing everything you can to show up to the test confident, prepared, and stress-free.

What if I earn a low score on one of the tests?

If you don’t do as well on one of the tests, you should focus on improving your highest test score.

While we recommend that a student try to take both tests on the official test day at least twice, receiving outstanding scores on both tests is not always possible. Some students really struggle with one test more than the other. If you’re one of those students, keep in mind that one great test score is often enough to showcase your academic potential to a college or scholarship committee.

For example, if you earn a 1400 on the SAT test and a 27 on the ACT test, it would be in your best interest to focus on improving your SAT test score.

What if I can’t afford to take both the ACT and SAT tests?

Both the ACT and SAT tests offer fee waivers to help students from low-income households afford the costs to take the tests. To find out if you’re eligible for a fee waiver, contact your school counselor (or a local school counselor if you’re homeschooled). He or she will be able to assist you with registering for a test fee waiver.

Students who are eligible include those who qualify for financial assistance from the government, live in households with an income that qualifies for assistance, are homeless, are a ward of the state or an orphan, or meet other qualifications. Read more about ACT or SAT fee waivers.

Need help building a testing plan?

At KD College Prep, our team is available to answer your questions about the testing process and help you build a testing plan. Since 1992, we’ve helped more than 72,000 students reach their test score goals. Schedule your free consultation to talk to one of our advisors.

Emily Brehe-Gunter is the digital marketing director at KD College Prep.

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