SAT vs. ACT: Which Test to Take and Score Conversion6 min read

Standardized Testing is an integral part of the College Admissions process. As terrible as standardized testing often is, most high school students aspiring to enter college in the United States will have to take either the SAT or ACT, and sometimes even both.

If you have taken both, you may be wondering which of your scores to send to colleges (or you may just want to see how the two tests compare). Either way, the College Board has released some handy concordance tables (tables that convert old SAT, new SAT, and ACT scores, based on percentile) for colleges to compare students who took different tests. We’ve included an SAT/ACT conversion table below for your convenience, as well as a table relating scores to percentile.

SAT/ACT Conversion Table:

ACT Composite ScoreSAT CR+M Score
361600
351540-1590
341490-1530
331440-1480
321400-1430
311360-1390
301330-1350
291290-1320
281250-1280
271210-1240
261170-1200
251130-1160
241090-1120
231050-1080
221020-1040
21980-1010
20940-970
19900-930
18860-890
17820-850
16770-810
15720-760
14670-710
13620-660
12560-610
11510-550

These SAT/ACT conversion numbers are from the College Board’s official Concordance Tables. (SAT/ACT conversion information is on page 7.)

Note: The SAT and ACT are fundamentally different tests. Getting one score on the SAT does not mean that you’ll get the corresponding score on the ACT. This table is based on the percentage of test-takers who obtain a specific score.

Percentile Conversion Table:

ACT/SAT PercentileACT Composite ScoreSAT CR+M Score
99+34-361510-1600
98331470-1500
97321450-1460
95311410-1420
93301380
91291350-1360
88281320
84271290
80261250
76251220
71241190
65231160
59221130
53211090
46201060
40191030
33181000
2717960
2116930
1515880
1014830
513770
212690-720
<1<12<650

ACT Percentiles were calculated from the ACT’s official score distribution information. If you want more in-depth information about SAT percentiles or how the new SAT compares to the old SAT, see the College Board’s Understanding Scores 2016. (Percentiles are pages 5-8; old/new SAT concordance is page 12 onwards.)

 

I haven’t taken either test yet. Which test (or both) should I take?

Ultimately, this is a Coke vs. Pepsi question. It’s all about personal preference. Pick whichever one you like better and can do better on. Remember, no college will ever prefer one test over another. Their goal is to determine the best candidates for their college, so they have no reason to favor either test. If anyone (other than an admissions officer) ever tells you that a college prefers the SAT or ACT, their information is horribly outdated (either that or they’re lying to you and probably steal your stuff when you’re not looking).

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Even though colleges will treat them similarly, the two tests are far from the same. While the new SAT is designed to be more like the ACT, the tests still contain some key differences that can help you decide which test to take.

SATACT
Structure65 min – Reading

35 min – Writing

25 min – Math (No-Calculator)

55 min – Math (Calculator)

50 min – Essay (Optional)

45 min – English

60 min – Math (Calculator)

35 min – Reading

35 min – Science

40 min – Essay (Optional)

Reading5 Passages, 52 Questions

75 secs/Q

4 Passages, 40 Questions

52.5 secs/Q

Writing/English44 Questions

48 secs/Q

75 Questions

36 secs/Q

Math (No-Calculator)20 Questions

72 secs/Q

N/A
Math (Calculator)38 Questions

87 secs/Q

60 Questions

60 secs/Q

ScienceN/A40 Questions

52.5 secs/Q

Essay (Optional)An analytical essay examining how an author uses evidence, reasoning, and stylistic and persuasive elements in a given passage.An analytical/persuasive essay evaluating three given perspectives on a relevant topic and offering your own perspective on that topic.
ScaleScored on a scale of 400-1600Scored on a scale of 1-36

Some clear patterns arise in the design of each test. The SAT tends to give a lot more time per question, but their questions tend to be slightly more difficult and confusing (especially in the math section). The ACT questions are usually more straightforward, but there tends to be a bigger time crunch.

The extra emphasis on math in the SAT (it’s half of the SAT but only 1/4 of the ACT) should favor junior mathematicians and those who like longer math problems. If math isn’t your thing, perhaps choose the ACT instead.

Science can also be a major determining factor, as only the ACT contains a science section. If science is your worst section on the ACT, consider taking the SAT. If science is your best section, let it work its magic on your ACT score.

The Essays can be significant as well. The SAT essay is very similar to what you’ll find on the AP English Language or Literature exam (they’re both made by the College Board), so if you’ve already taken either AP test, you may be more comfortable with the SAT essay.

Don’t do this during the SAT or ACT.

Ultimately, the only way to know which test is better for you is to take practice tests. Take an SAT and an ACT practice test, and compare your results using the ideas outlined above. Make sure to time yourself, as time can be a significant factor in deciding which test to take!

Note: we generally do not recommend taking both exams, as devoting all of your study time to a single test will likely net you a higher score than spreading your time across two different tests. Taking multiple tests costs more money, requires way more study time, and may even hurt your overall scores (especially if the school you’re applying to requires you to disclose all of your test scores). Figure out early which test is right for you, and try to stick to that test. It’s generally only worth it when applying to super-competitive schools, and even then it’s not really necessary. The small chance that you get a better score on the other test is usually not worth the extra risk, time, and monetary cost. If you feel that your application needs a supplement in the testing department, consider taking SAT Subject tests rather than switching between the SAT and the ACT. 

You can find official full-length SAT practice tests here. An official full-length ACT practice test is available in PDF form here.

 

I took both the SAT and the ACT. Which test should I send scores for?

If either of your scores overshadows the other according to the chart at the top of the page, send that score only. Sending multiple scores is generally unadvised, as there is no reason to submit a weaker score. You should only send multiple scores if required by the college you’re applying to, or if you have excellent scores on both tests.

There is another option: not sending any scores at all. Many colleges do not require SAT or ACT scores to be submitted, especially if you have a strong GPA (3.0-3.5 or higher, depending on the school). If you have a strong GPA and lackluster test scores, feel free to not submit any scores at all. Only send in scores if they will help your application—never damage your own prospects.

However, there are fringe cases where you would want to submit a weaker score. For instance, if you’re applying to a school that requires you report all of your scores on a particular test, and you got a great SAT score (on your sixth try) and a nearly-as-good ACT score on your first try, you may want to submit your ACT score instead. In cases like these, ask your counselor if you’re not sure which scores to send.

 

Good Luck!

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