The SAT is meant to measure your reasoning and logic abilities. The idea is that, no matter what classes you have taken, you should be able to do well on the SAT if you are a good problem solver. The test is divided into three sections: Critical Reading, Math, and Writing (part of which is the mandatory Essay). These are broken down into ten subsections (three from each plus an unscored variable section) and given separately on test day, with time limits ranging from 10-25 minutes. Get Shmoop SAT Preparation help here.
Because the SAT is designed to test reasoning ability more than content, strong students who haven’t taken some advanced courses still have the opportunity to do well. Reasoning generally takes longer than answering content questions, so the SAT gives test takers a bit more time to answer each question. The test also doesn’t include a Science section, good for students who slept through Chemistry. Short sections can also help with students who have difficulty maintaining focus when a fuzzy squirrel runs by the window.
The SAT is meant for students to apply logic to new material, so learners who depend on memorization over problem-solving may find this test more difficult. The test is also English-heavy, with 2/3 of the score coming from the Critical Reading (why so critical?) and the Writing sections. The Essay is mandatory, so students who struggle with writing will face a challenge.
Bet on the SAT if...You are a good problem solver and aren’t afraid of the Big Bad English sections.
Unlike the SAT, the ACT is meant to test mastery of high-school curricula. This means that, to do well, you should have been paying attention in class. The test is divided into four sections: Math, Reading, Science and English (which contains an optional Essay). Each section tests separately, with time limits ranging from 35 to 60 minutes. Get Shmoop ACT Preparation help here.
Content mastery is the name of the game, so students confident that their high school courses have prepared them well should kick butt. For those who hated their English teacher, less focus on English and an optional essay may be attractive (probably more attractive than your English teacher.)
Science. If you bombed any class having to do with particles, molecules, DNA, or heat transfer, you may have a hard time with this section. The ACT also packs lots of questions into each sections, so be prepared for rapid-fire answering.
Bet on the ACT If...Your high school transcript is full of advanced courses and you feel like you mastered the content for each course.