Academic Applications University

Beginner’s Guide to the SAT & ACT

If you’re applying to US universities, chances are you’ll have to take either the SAT or the ACT. To the students who don’t know what they are and how to go about them: this post is for you!

What are they?

Both the SAT and ACT are standardized tests which most US universities require for undergraduate admission. The ACT is run by itself, while the SAT is run by CollegeBoard, a company which also runs AP exams and the CSS Profile. Students can choose to take either the SAT or the ACT (students do not need to take both). Additionally, some universities may ask for SAT Subject Tests.

Which one should I take?

Every student will find that they prefer one over the other, and sometimes it may not be the easiest process trying to determine which one is right for you. 

The best way to navigate this is to take a diagnostic test. You can either find one online ( is a good website to find free ones), or contact one of your local test prep centers to see if they have diagnostic tests available. Do at least two of these to determine which standardized test is the best fit for you.

How should I prepare?

The best way to prepare for the SAT/ACT is to take practice tests!! First, figure out if you are going to be taking a test on paper or online, and practice the same way that you are going to take the real test. Don’t forget to time yourself! This will give you more accurate practice scores. 

It’s not difficult to find free practice tests (both on paper and online) through a quick Internet search. Most of the time, you’ll find the corresponding answer keys as well!

I also suggest subscribing to a ‘Question A Day’ email that you can receive every day. Start this 2-3 months before your testing day, or even earlier if you choose! I would complete a question first thing every morning, and I found that it helped my scores improve.

When doing practice tests, don’t forget to to mark yourself and take note of where you went wrong. I kept a notebook for all my mistakes from my practice tests to ensure that I wouldn’t make them again – and I encourage you to do the same!

Bonus Tip:

Both the ACT and the SAT allow students to select up to 4 universities to send their scores to for free. While this seem like a good idea, the downside is that you will have to send your scores before you even know what they are. I suggest waiting until after you have received your scores to decide whether you want to send them or not, and to which universities. But, if you feel confident enough about your scores, do take advantage of the free service.

I hope that this is helpful information when navigating the SAT or the ACT – don’t forget to check the ACT website or College Board for the SAT to make sure that you are signing up for your preferred test date on time!

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