One of the burning questions students (and their parents) ask is whether to take the ACT or SAT in Walnut Creek. It’s perfectly understandable because they think it’s not only their preference that will make the decision — they’re also considering the colleges of their choice whether they prefer to accept one exam over the other.

The answer: almost all colleges across the United States accept both ACT and SAT for admission purposes. We say almost because all the major universities (including the elite ones like the Ivy League schools) seem to prefer students to take the SAT as a college entrance exam, while most colleges and other universities accept both the SAT and ACT.

This is a major leap from several decades ago where these two college entrance exams used to be both taken regionally. Schools from the East Coast and West Coast used to take the SAT, while most Southern and Midwestern schools preferred the ACT. While the SAT used to be the premiere choice for the majority of American high schools, the ACT was once seen as a second-rate admission test. Now, this isn’t the case any longer.

In recent years both the SAT and the ACT have undergone some big changes, which make both of them almost similar to each other compared to their own previous configurations. But still, some big discrepancies between the two tests remain.

So, rest assured that both the ACT and SAT are viewed and accepted equally by most colleges and universities as standardized admission exams. Now it all boils down to your own preference — what factors will make you decide one test over the other? The following are the key differences between the ACT and the SAT that will help you make a solid decision:

1. The basic difference between the SAT and the ACT
The SAT is an aptitude test which measures your reasoning skills and problem-solving capabilities. When the SAT was first established, its creators named it as “Scholastic Aptitude Test,” believing that it would test a student’s aptitude to perform well academically in college.

The ACT, on the other hand, is an achievement test that determines what you have generally learned in high school (before being tested).

Aptitude tests have the tendency to cover a wider range of knowledge, information, and experiences whereas achievement tests only deal with what you have recently learned in certain subjects.

2. Format and structure
As you may know, the redesigned SAT was released in March 2016, and the education world saw major changes in it from its previous incarnation. The newly revised SAT has three sections: Evidence-Based Reading and Writing, Math, and Essay (optional).

The ACT has five sections: English, Math, Reading, Science, and Writing (optional). As you may have noticed, the ACT has a Science section whereas the SAT does not. The ACT also adds trigonometry in the Math section.

While both exams test a student’s vocabulary skills, the SAT seems to put more emphasis on it.

The ACT tends to be more focused on the content. Plus, the wording of its questions is generally simpler and easier to understand.

3. Scoring
The revised SAT has brought back the 1600-point scale from its previous 2400. Unlike the old SAT, the new SAT does not give penalties for guessing.

The ACT is scored on a scale from 1 to 36. There are no guessing penalties.

4. Cost
Cost definitely plays a major factor in your decision making.

As of this moment, the ACT costs $38 (without Writing) or $54.50 (with Writing). Both rates cover other things such as the score results to be sent to you, to your high school, and to the four colleges of your choice. Viewing scores online can be done for free.

The SAT, on the other hand, charges $26 for the basic registration. You may expect the rates to be subject to change without prior notice.

5. Length
The new SAT is 3 hours long, plus an additional 50 minutes if you choose to take the Essay.

The ACT takes 2 hours and 55 minutes (without Writing) or 3 hours and 35 minutes (with Writing). Students take the four sections — English, Math, Reading, Science — one at a time.

The optional Essay (SAT) and Writing (ACT) usually take place at the end of the test.

6. Dates
Contrary to popular belief, the senior years are the busiest and the most stressful time in high school. Challenging schoolwork is piling up plus the extra-curricular activities such as homecoming, not to mention there’s also the grueling college application process. That’s why setting a definite test date for either SAT or ACT (or maybe both) is also essential in managing your already packed schedule, leaving you enough time and room to study for the exams.

For the 2017-2018 testing year (for instance), the ACT and SAT will be offered on the following dates (NOTE – this list may not be full and be subject to change):

Test dates (registration deadline / late resgistration deadline):

  • February 11, 2017 (January 13, 2017 / January 14-20, 2017)
  • April 8, 2017 (March 3, 2017 / March 4-17, 2017)
  • June 10, 2017 (May 5, 2017 / May 6-19, 2017)
  • September 9, 2017 (August 4, 2017 / August 5-18, 2017)
  • October 29, 2017 (September 22, 2017 / September 23 – October 6, 2017)
  • December 9, 2017 (November 3, 2017 / November 4-17, 2017)
  • February 10, 2018 (January 5, 2018 / January 6-19, 2018)
  • April 14, 2018 (March 9, 2018 / March 10-23, 2018)
  • June 9, 2018 (May 4, 2018 / May 5-18, 2018)
  • July 2018 (exact date TBA) – (TBA / TBA)

Test dates* (registration deadline / late registration deadline):

  • January 21, 2017 (December 21, 2016 / January 10, 2017)
  • March 11, 2017 (February 10, 2017 / February 28, 2017)
  • May 6, 2017 (April 7, 2017 / April 25, 2017)
  • June 3, 2017 (May 9, 2017 / May 24, 2017)
  • August 26, 2017 (July 28, 2017 / August 15, 2017)
  • October 7, 2017 (September 8, 2017 / September 27, 2017)
  • November 4, 2017 (October 5, 2017 / October 25, 2017)
  • December 2, 2017 (November 2, 2017 / November 21, 2017)
  • March 10, 2018 (February 9, 2018 / February 28, 2018)
  • May 5, 2018 (April 6, 2018 / April 25, 2018)
  • June 2, 2018 (May 3, 2018 / May 23, 2018)

*These dates are for USA only and may not include international testing dates.

7. Your own preference, ability, and test-taking style
The aforementioned information will provide you the basis on how would you like to take your exam.
You may prefer to take the SAT if you:

  • struggle with science, geometry, or trigonometry.
  • like a lot of breaks.
  • excel at writing and vocabulary.
  • specifically, want to enter a major university and eye at scholarships plus loads of tuition money. As said before, all major universities accept SAT as a college entrance test.
  • like to offset a low GPA.
  • like taking a test at a slower pace.
  • like to analyze (rather than giving your opinion) in the Essay section.
  • love math in particular and would like to do computations with or without using a calculator. The new SAT’s Math section is split into two – with a calculator (55 minutes) and no calculator (25 minutes).

On the other hand, you would like to take the ACT if you:

  • prefer a shorter test.
  • love science, geometry, and trigonometry.
  • struggle with writing and vocabulary.
  • are intimidated by solving math problems without a calculator.
  • are aware that most colleges will require ACT scores.
  • are interested in scholarships plus loads of tuition cash.
  • like to give your opinion on the Writing section.

Whether you want to take the ACT or SAT in Walnut Creek (and nearby areas), there are a few things that you should no matter which test you choose:

Study and review. Practice a lot. Learn to relax, especially a day or two before the test date. If you need extra help in your studies, you may want to hire an experienced tutoring service to help you prepare academically for the “big day.”