Should You Take Both the SAT and ACT?

SAT Subject Tests
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Taking a college admissions exam like the SAT or ACT is nerve-wracking enough without having to figure out if you should be taking both the SAT and ACT. There are schools of thought on both sides. Some people advise taking both exams, while others eschew that idea completely, stating you should take just one. 

Well, to which advice should you listen? 

To help make matters a bit clearer, here are the basic arguments for both sides and some questions to ask yourself at the end to help you make your decision. 

Why You SHOULD Take Both the SAT and ACT

Clearly, many people believe that you should take both of these college admissions exams, and the folks recommending both aren't just test prep companies. (I think we can agree that any recommendation to take both tests from a test prep company comes from a group with a vested interest in you doing so.) Here are some unbiased reasons it makes sense to take both the SAT and ACT.

  1. If you take both, you will have more test date options. Since the ACT and SAT are operated independently of each other, they are offered on different test dates. If you have double the opportunities to take a college admissions exam, then you won't have to cancel important plans you may have like a college tour, a tournament game, or that much-anticipated great-Aunt's birthday party if those plans happen to fall on your test date. Plus, ACT and the College Board schedule test dates within just a few weeks of each other (The SAT is on June 3 and the ACT is on June 10, for example), so you won't miss an admissions deadline if you need a retake. Instead of retaking the same test, you can take the other test much sooner. 
  2. If you take both, you will give the college admissions office more info about you. And let's hope that it's good, right? If you should decide to take both the SAT and ACT and score well on both, you have demonstrated that you're capable of high-level reasoning across a variety of different question types, which is an admirable quality. 
  3. If you take both, you have a backup plan. Let's say you decided to take the ACT and something terrible happened on test day: you bombed it, spectacularly. You woke up feeling woozy, so you couldn't think about anything else during the test except your upset stomach. Or you got an eyelash in your left eye and it bothered you. Or you were just out of sorts because of a fight you got into with your mom. If you've signed up to take the SAT a few weeks later, then no sweat. Your terrible performance on the ACT can be a bad memory and you can move on (with all the first-time tester jitters out) to a new test, with hopefully, better results. 

Why You SHOULD NOT Take Both the SAT and ACT

There is always a flip side to every coin, isn't there? Those reasons above are pretty great for taking both the SAT and ACT. However, if you read below, you will see that there are also some stellar reasons for just choosing one or the other and giving it a go. 

  1. If you DON'T take both, you can master one exam. Each college admissions exam is different from the other. There are different test strategies to master for the SAT and entirely different test strategies to master the ACT. The essays are significantly different. Don't even get me started on the science sections. Oh wait. The SAT doesn't even have a section devoted entirely to science. See what we mean? Mastery of one test takes time; if you spend part of your time mastering one test and part of your precious study time mastering another, then you are reducing the total mastery time for one of the tests by half. That's just math. Pick your battle and dive into the fray with both guns blazing. Not just one. 
  2. If you DON'T take both, you will spend less cash. Face it. Signing up for a class for the ACT or buying books for the SAT takes money. It just does. Yes, there are tons of free places for test prep, but many of you will not opt for the free stuff. You will buy the books and hire the tutors and take the classes. Think of the cash. Then double it. If you try to master both exams with costly test prep aids, then you will be spending a significant amount of money to do so. At last check, some of the test prep classes can run up into the thousands. Private tutors cost even more. If you focus on one test, you'll reduce the expense. 
  3. If you DON'T take both, you will spend less time preparing. As a high school student, you are probably pushed to the max with your time. Maybe you are holding down a job while trying to make good grades. Maybe you play sports, participate in clubs, volunteer, and spend time at church or with friends on the weekends. Preparing for two separate exams would really double the amount of prep time you would need for an exam that is just designed to show college admissions officers how you might fare in their colleges one day. 

How to Decide

Since there are positives and negatives to both options, how do you decide which option is best for you?Ask yourself the following questions to help you decide whether or not you should take both the SAT and ACT or just one. 

  1. How much time and cash do you have to pour into two tests? If you're on the short end in one or both of those areas, perhaps just focusing on one is better for you.
  2. How well do you typically perform on standardized tests? If you typically tend to do well on multiple choice tests, no matter the content, then taking both could work to your advantage. 
  3. How willing are your parents to fork out the registration fees for both tests? If your parents are on the "heck to the no" party bus, then perhaps you'd better take this easy, 10-question ACT vs. SAT quiz to see which college entrance exam suits you best and go with it. You don't want to upset your parents! 
  4. How competitive is the college or university to which you're applying? Heading to Harvard? Yale? Columbia? Cal Tech? MIT? Then perhaps you'd better take both tests. Nearly a third of all college applicants going to big-name schools take both exams. You want college admissions officers to be able to compare apples to apples when considering your application, don't you? Yes, you do. 

The Bottom Line

No matter which option you go with - both or just one - you must take preparing for the SAT and/or the ACT a priority in your life during your junior and senior years. These exams are not tests to waltz into unprepared. You can get cash for your college admissions scores via scholarships and admittance into schools that may have been out of your reach otherwise.

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Your Citation
Roell, Kelly. "Should You Take Both the SAT and ACT?" ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Roell, Kelly. (2023, April 5). Should You Take Both the SAT and ACT? Retrieved from Roell, Kelly. "Should You Take Both the SAT and ACT?" ThoughtCo. (accessed May 28, 2023).