Do You Need to Take Both the ACT and SAT

As a high school student, I took both the SAT and the ACT. I’d been taking the SAT every couple of years since I was in middle school, so I planned to focus primarily on it. However, as a public school student in Colorado, I was required to take the ACT by my school. My scores on the two tests were relatively similar and I ended up submitting both.

Taking both tests, whether because of school requirements or personal preference, has become

an increasingly common choice for students

, especially those applying to top colleges.

Though it isn’t necessary to take both the ACT and SAT, doing so might be the right plan for you.

This guide will walk you through the pro and cons of taking both tests.

Key Fact: Schools Only Require the ACT


the SAT,

Not Both

No school will require you to submit scores from both tests, so


definitely don’t need

to take both the ACT and the SAT


Keep in mind that, regardless of what you might have heard to the contrary,

all schools accept both the ACT and the SAT.


in the past selective colleges on the coasts generally preferred the SAT

, this hasn’t been the case for decades.

I would say that

for most students it’s not worth the time investment to prepare for both tests,

but read on for all the information you need to make the best decision for yourself.

4 Reasons You Might Want to Take Both Tests

There are four potential benefits to taking both the ACT and the SAT: you’ll have an extra chance to excel, prepping for one can help you do better on the other, some schools might appreciate seeing both scores, and you’ll get more test dates to choose from.

#1: You’ll Have More Opportunities to Do Well

The most common reason students take both the ACT and the SAT is in case they can score much better on one than the other.

The majority of students will score similarly on both tests,

but it can be tricky to determine whether you’re one of the exceptions without

trying both tests


Nonetheless, there are some

general patterns to which students prefer which tests

. Students who have a strong affinity for the ACT generally:

  • Are less stressed by time pressures
  • Excel at skimming passages for information
  • Enjoy data and charts, or at least aren’t intimidated by them
  • Are comfortable with




Students who prefer the SAT, on the other hand, usually:

  • Are comfortable with complicated question phrasings
  • Can do basic calculations by hand
  • Can easily explain the logic behind their answers

One benefit of this approach is that if you


score much higher on either the ACT or the SAT,

you can always choose to send only the scores from the test you did better on

—even if a school doesn’t use



ACT Score Choice


#2: The Tests Are Similar, so Preparing for One Will Help You on the Other


SAT redesign


the two tests more similar than ever

. Because there’s

a lot of overlap between content and strategies for the ACT and the SAT,

prepping for one will help you on the other as well.

For example, studying for the ACT Science section will help you hone graph-reading skills that will come in handy on the SAT’s quantitative reasoning and data representation questions. On the other hand, reviewing the

grammar rules you need for SAT Writing

will be equally good preparation for ACT English.


if you


plan to prepare for both, be sure to start studying well ahead of when you want to be done with testing.

You’ll need to spend some extra time learning about whichever test you decide to take second.

#3: Taking Both Tests Can Provide Extra Information for Schools

As I mentioned above, most students who take both tests are applying to

more selective schools

, which sometimes appreciate the extra information.

Doing extremely well on both tests is slightly more impressive than doing equally well on just one.

Janet Rapelye

, Princeton’s dean of admissions, told the

New York Times


submitting both tests isn’t necessary but can be helpful


“For us, more information is always better. If students choose one or the other, that’s fine, because both tests have value. But if they submit both, that generally gives us a little more information.”

Though the tests are very similar, and treated the same by admissions committees,

they do test slightly different ideas and concepts.

Taking both gives schools the fullest sense of your capabilities; however, keep in mind that any advantage submitting both tests gives you will be relatively minor.

#4: You’ll Get More Test Dates to Choose From





are each offered seven times a year but on different dates. Thus, by taking both tests,

you’ll essentially get double the number of test dates to choose from.

This can be helpful if you’re worried about finding time to take a test and have a pretty stringent schedule at certain times of year. For example, if you’re super busy in the winter and would rather take a test in the spring or early summer, this gives you three SAT dates (March, May, and June)


two ACT dates (April and June) to choose from.

2 Reasons Taking Both Tests Might Not Be Worth It

While there are some potential upsides to taking both the SAT and the ACT, there are also some pretty significant drawbacks.

#1: You’ll Need More Prep Time

If you want to prep for both the ACT and the SAT,

you’ll have to spend a fair amount of extra time preparing.

Even with the overlap between the tests, you’ll need to take a few practice tests for the second test you focus on,


take the time to make sure you fully understand the differences between the two tests. This will amount to roughly

10-20 hours of extra test prep.

These hours might be better spent pursuing

an activity you’re excited about


working on your college essay


#2: Trying to Do Both Can Be Overwhelming and Confusing

The tests are similar, but not the same. As such,

trying to prepare for both can end up being very overwhelming

if you’re the type of person who has trouble juggling a lot of different ideas at once.

Ultimately, for some students, trying to study for both the ACT and the SAT can lead to lower scores than focusing on just one test would.

How to Choose Between the SAT and the ACT: 4 Factors

If you do settle on taking just one of the tests, there are four factors you’ll want to consider when deciding between them.

#1: Do You Have a Particular Affinity for the SAT or the ACT?

As I mentioned above,

most students score similarly on both tests, but some find one significantly easier than the other.

In addition to the brief guidelines I’ve laid out in this post, you can use

this guide

to determine whether you’re likely to have strong preference for the ACT or the SAT.

You might also try

taking a practice test of each and comparing your scores

—this approach is more accurate but also more of a time commitment.

#2: Are You Required to Take One of the Tests at School?

Roughly half of the states in the US will require all public school juniors to take either

the ACT


the SAT

. If your school requires you to take one of them,

you might benefit from focusing on the required test.

What’s more, your school might offer free or discounted test-prep resources, ultimately making you more familiar with just one of the two tests.


#3: Does One Test Better Suit Your Strengths?

Though the SAT and ACT have a lot in common these days, they still have

a few big differences

that you can use to determine which test might be a better fit for your particular strengths.

Some of the biggest differences between the two tests are as follows:

Science Section?

% Geometry Qs on Math Section

Avg Time per Question

No-Calculator Section?

Math Formulas Chart?

Grid-in Math Qs?

No <10% >1 minute Yes Yes Yes

Yes 35-45% <1 minute No No No

As you can see, if you’re not too good at geometry and need more time per question, the SAT will likely be a better fit for your skills. On the other hand, if you hate doing math without a calculator but love science, the ACT might work better for you.

Look at

what’s on each test and then decide whether one might be a better fit for you.

And don’t just think about your strengths—consider your weaknesses, too. For example, if you’re not good at grid-in math questions, you might have a better shot at getting a high Math score on the ACT than you would on the SAT.

#4: Which Test Offers More Convenient Test Dates?

The last big factor to consider is which test offers more convenient test dates that work with your schedule.

As I mentioned above,

both the SAT and ACT are administered seven times a year

(excluding school-day testing); however, these test dates are not the same.

The chart below shows

what months

the SAT and ACT are administered each school year:

Testing Month






As the chart indicates, some months offer both the SAT and ACT while others only offer one or the other (note that January is the only month that offers neither test).

Ultimately, it’s important to

consider which

test can give you more flexibility and fits better with your schedule.

For example, if you have the whole summer to study, you might want to take the SAT since it offers an August test date. Or, if you have winter to study and want to get the test over with before spring activities start, the February ACT might be an ideal fit.

Still Want to Take Both the ACT and SAT? 3 Tips

If, after lots of consideration, you still want to take both the ACT and SAT, you’ll need to know

how to prepare accordingly

so that you don’t get overwhelmed or make any mistakes on test day. Here are our top three tips for keeping your brain in check as you prep for the SAT



#1: Focus on One Test at a Time

The most important point is to focus on one test at a time in your prep. This means

you shouldn’t take both tests in the same month or even in back-to-back months,

as doing this can confuse and overwhelm you.

Ideally, you’ll take one test and then the other

at least three months later.

We typically advise prepping for at least three to six months before the SAT/ACT, so giving yourself this amount of time in-between test dates should allow you to take one test and then completely transition your mindset to prepping for the other.

Taking both the ACT and SAT around the same time might sound like a smart idea, but in the end all it’s going to do is mix up information in your head and exhaust you.

So take our advice and spread out your dates!


#2: Use Resources Specific to Your Test

While some resources can work for both the SAT and ACT, most target just one of the two tests. As a result,

don’t try to use SAT resources for your ACT prep, or ACT resources for your SAT prep.

Doing this will ultimately end up confusing you, and you’ll learn the wrong strategies and content.

Instead, separate your resources into two piles: one for the SAT, and one for the ACT. For tips on what

prep books to use for the SAT



, check out our individual guides.

The only high-quality resource I recommend using for both tests is

Khan Academy


This free website has partnered with the College Board to offer tons of video tutorials and official SAT practice questions. While it doesn’t specifically cater to the ACT,

it’s got a lot of helpful strategies and explanations for math, reading, and writing

that you can apply to your ACT prep as well.

#3: Come Up With Separate Study Plans

Lastly, you’ll need to spend some time coming up with two separate study plans for the SAT and ACT. Even if you plan to give yourself the same amount of time to study for both tests (say, four months for each test),

how you spend that time will likely vary slightly depending on which test you’re taking.

The main reason for this is the content differences on the tests. Remember, the ACT has a whole section the SAT doesn’t have—Science! That fact alone should be reason enough to come up with a different study schedule.

Another reason is

your own goals.

What score are you aiming for on the SAT? The ACT? Where are you currently scoring on each test? Once you’ve answered these questions, you can begin to figure out how to structure and customize your study schedules.

For tips on how to build the best



ACT study plan

for you, take a look at our guides.

What’s Next?

When studying for the ACT or SAT, it’s helpful to have a specific goal in mind.

Learn how to determine what a great score for


will be on the


or the



Aiming for a top test score?

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