The Big Question……SAT or ACT?


Kyle Gilbert

It’s the question that every college bound high school junior across the country faces: Do I take the SAT or ACT? Both tests have a rich history and promise to measure your intelligence on multiple levels in a way that a traditional school setting can’t. Individually, the SAT has a reputation of being East Coast and the ACT being respectively West Coast.


According to, The SAT’s roots trace back to 1930’s Harvard. In 1933, James Bryant Cohen became president of Harvard and tasked his assistant to find a test that was able to measure potential applicants intelligence, as the school was interested in expanding their pool of Eastern boarding schools. His assistant, Henry Chauncy, advised Cohen to use the SAT as he felt it was able to measure the test takers true intelligence, regardless of their high school education. Essentially, the test was meant to even the playing field. Mr. Chauncey talked the College Board into using the test for applicants to Harvard in 1938.  Unfortunately, this was succeeded by the war in 1942 and all of the previously administered national College Board tests were eliminated and the SAT was put in its place.


The SAT’s rival, the ACT, has been gaining popularity since its creation in 1956. The scion test was created by Evert Lindquist of the University of Iowa. Interestingly, the basis of the ACT was in direct opposition to the SAT, as the test was designed to test less of one’s basic cognitive ability, and more of one’s high school education. It offered a more specialized result as it claimed to be able to identify strengths and weakness among its takers. It was first administered to students in 1959.


While the tests are similar conceptually, the similarities end there. The ACT alots three hours and thirty five minutes with the writing section included while the SAT allows three hours and forty five minutes. The SAT has ten total sections with three being critical reading, three being mathematical, three being writing and one being experimental. The ACT has four total sections, which are english, math, reading, and science, with the optional essay portion. Theoretically, this alots 36 seconds for English questions on the SAT and 67 seconds for the ACT! This is enough to be stress-inducing for any student and requires significant preparation. Now, which test should you take?


According to PrepScholar, if you are more mathematical, you may want to gravitate towards the ACT, which is designed to test geometry and trigonometry, while the SAT is designed to test foundational algebraic concepts. Do you like calculators? The ACT math section will be much more comforting for you. The SAT presents a calculator and no calculator section that is daunting for many who are not mathematically inclined. Lastly, if you are comfortable with the classic “SAT” vocab, ironically, you may be better at the ACT. The SAT has been revised while the ACT still presents relatively complicated diction. Ultimately, whatever test you chose to take, we here at the Lamp wish you the best of luck as you enter the test taking season.