ACT vs. SAT: Which Test Is Right for Your Child?

As a parent, navigating the world of admissions testing for your high school student can be overwhelming. With different exams available, it’s essential to have all the facts to ensure your child doesn’t waste time preparing for unnecessary tests.

In this article, we’ll dive into the key differences between the ACT and SAT exams and explore which test may be more suitable for specific types of students. By the end, you’ll have a clearer understanding of which path to take for your child’s admissions journey.

Which Test Is Right for Your Child?

To determine which test aligns best with your child’s strengths and preferences, consider the following questions:

  1. Does your child enjoy reading?
  2. Does your child struggle with vocabulary or memorizing words?
  3. Does your child tend to make careless mistakes on math exams?
  4. Does your child have a genuine interest in science?
  5. Is your child familiar with proper punctuation, such as the use of semicolons?
  6. Does your child have a good knowledge of history, current events, or books?
  7. Is your child more likely to excel on tests with proper studying?
  8. Has your child covered trigonometry in their math curriculum?
  9. Has your child encountered logarithms in their math studies?
  10. Does your child struggle with managing time during tests?

Assign 1 point for every “Yes” answer to questions 1-5, 7-9, and assign 1 point for every “No” answer to questions 6 and 10. Total the points. If the score is greater than 6, the ACT is most likely the better option. If the score is less than 5, the SAT may be the preferred choice. If the score falls between 5 and 6, either exam is a viable option for your child.

Deciphering the Differences: Why ACT or SAT?

Now that we have a scoring framework in place, let’s explore why each test may be suitable for different types of students.

ACT English vs. SAT Writing

Both the ACT and SAT English sections focus heavily on grammar, but there are slight variations. The ACT places more emphasis on punctuation, while the SAT delves deeper into idiomatic expressions and diction.

For the essay component, the SAT prompts students to support their reasoning with examples from history, literature, and current events. If your child struggles with recalling facts, the ACT essay, usually based on topics relevant to high school students, may be a better fit.

ACT Reading vs. SAT Reading

While both the ACT and SAT Reading sections consist of extensive passages, the SAT also includes sentence completion questions that test vocabulary knowledge.

Unless your child has been actively studying vocabulary or possesses a natural inclination for reading, improving vocabulary overnight can be challenging, considering the vast number of prospective SAT words.

ACT Math vs. SAT Math

The math sections of both exams cover similar concepts in arithmetic, algebra, and geometry. However, there are slight differences. The SAT is known for tripping up students who tend to make careless errors, while the ACT is less inclined to do so.

On the other hand, the ACT encompasses more advanced topics, necessitating a basic understanding of trigonometry and logarithms.


Choosing between the ACT and SAT exams can be a daunting task, but armed with the right information, you can make an informed decision for your high school student. Consider their strengths, preferences, and the specific areas of each test.

Remember, there is no one-size-fits-all approach; what matters most is finding the best fit for your child’s abilities and ensuring they have adequate time for preparation. Good luck on your admissions journey!

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