Act or satAnswered
I'm trying to decide between the act or sat. Do colleges prefer one or the other?
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No colleges do not prefer one or the other. But I would say if you are more STEM oriented, the act might be easier for you.
Colleges have no preference, however, it doesn't mean that they are agnostic with regards to the 50% percentile ranges or cutoffs. For example at Harvard, a 33 ACT score is a well-known cutoff (not to say you couldn't get into Harvard with a 32 and other test scores that compensate for the 32). At the same time, a 1500+ is the SAT cutoff so that could be a problem for an SAT test only applicant who has 1450-1480 even though on the ACT/SAT concordance tables a 33 is 1450-1480. Therefore you should do your ACT/SAT research for each college you are applying to see if the SAT is more forgiving or the ACT more forgiving. At some midwest schools like Univ. Notre Dame the opposite is true, the avg ACT is 34 but the average SAT is 1475, so the SAT is more forgiving at Notre Dame. Part of the reason is that more applicants take the ACT in the MIDWEST/SOUTH and in the WEST/EAST the SAT is more prevalent.
As far as the tests are concerned the major differences are the following.
1. SAT has 2 math sections, ACT has 1 math section
2. SAT has fewer overall questions but they are not straight forward, with a lot more inference solutions. The ACT has more questions and straight forward.
3. If you are a fast test taker the ACT is better since it has like 20% more questions in the same time frame.
4. Both SAT/ACT essays are similar and are score in a similar Tripartite manner. 2 readers read your essay and submit a score and then you receive the composite score on a scale of 6-24 for the SAT and on the ACT 2-12. You want at least an 18 on the SAT essay and a 9 on the ACT.
5. Both Tests take the same amount of test time and have similar breaks
6. Only the ACT has a Science Section which is in lieu of the 2nd Math Section. It's not super hard but you have to know how to read tables, charts, and graphs, etc, and move fast.
Ideally, if you have the time, you should take both. If you are a senior you are running out of time so pick one. If you are junior, take both practice tests online and see which one you intuitive do better on. Then push forward. Hope that helps.
Colleges have no preference as to which test you take. But, many students do better on one test or the other, and I highly recommend that you do a practice test for both to see where you fall. You can try to "guess" which one will be better for you based on some of CameronBacon's factors, but the best evidence is your actual scores.
One other factor to consider is that a larger majority of colleges (roughly 90%) will superscore the SAT, while fewer (roughly 70%) superscore the ACT. Superscoring is when colleges take your highest individual test scores and calculate a new, composite score from across all your test dates. This can be a big advantage for you if you are planning to test more than once, and it might be worthwhile to look up individual schools that are on you list to see their superscoring policies.
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