Homeschooling Highschool – Choosing Between the ACT and the SAT

In my posts here and here, I discussed the PSAT and SAT, but there is another test that I didn’t address, the ACT. The ACT is a standardized test used for college admissions, much like the SAT. It also has a predictive/practice test like the PSAT, called the PLAN (and which has not been offered anywhere near us).

It used to be that a student took the test favored by the college he was applying to, but more and more schools are accepting both tests now, so your student  may wonder which test he should take. My daughter took both the SAT and the ACT, but is only going to submit her best score (not all colleges allow applicants to do this). My son, on the other hand, had no intention of taking any more tests than he had to. So we spent some time reviewing each test and having him do practice samples of each test. He decided that he preferred the ACT and he did seem to score higher on the ACT than the SAT.

One major difference between the ACT and the SAT is that the writing component is optional for the ACT. This was a major attraction to my son, who struggles with writing for timed tests. In the end, he did end up taking the writing component and did fine, but it was nice for him to have a choice.

Other differences between the two tests include:

  • The ACT has a science portion, while the SAT does not
  • The ACT tests trigonometry in its math portion, the SAT does not
  • The ACT tests grammar, the SAT does not
  • The SAT puts more emphasis on vocabulary
  • The SAT is a longer test (about 30-60 minutes longer, depending on whether or not the student takes the writing portion of the ACT)
  • The SAT has a penalty for guessing, incorrectly, the ACT does not
  • The ACT is curriculum-based, while the SAT focuses more on general reasoning and problem-solving skills

In general, we have found that taking samples of both tests is the best way to decide which test each child is more comfortable with and does better on.
If your student would like to get an idea of what score he would get on one test, based on what he scored on the other, here is a conversion chart. (This chart should be taken with a grain of salt, this is not an exact science.)

Here are some free resources for preparing for the ACT:


In addition, the resources that I listed in my post “Homeschooling Highschool: Preparing for the PSAT and SAT” can help students prepare for the ACT also.

Labels: High School, This and That, Wrapping Up Our Week
Posted by Maureen Sklaroff