The Dilemma: SAT or ACT?

New SAT or ACT, which should you take? For this one obligatory decision every high schooler must make, Blueprint provides a side-by-side comparison of the two tests to MUYM.

There exist several questions in life that leave many on the horns of dilemma: Who do you love more, Mom or Dad? Do I finish this optional assignment? What should I get for dinner?

Now, around this time of your life, in the midst of your high school career, comes the almighty decision: SAT or ACT?

During the recent decade, with the growing trend of the global community, many students have decided to leave the country to study abroad, especially to the United States. In South Korea, a great deal of students from both international schools and normal Korean schools take the US college admission tests, the SAT and ACT. As ambitious as these students may be, according to the Institute of International Education, South Korea placed third in 2015 for the leading places of origin of international students with over 65,000 students traveling abroad to study.

In fact, such competition has given birth to a culture unique to our country—hagwons. Hagwons (in Korean, 학원) are private institutes known as academies or “cram schools” with their main purpose to provide students with supplementary assistance in education, whether it be helping them keep pace with the school curriculum or become one of those overachievers.

Among these hagwons dispersed throughout Korea are many solely devoted to the preparation of the US college entrance exams. Countless students, in hopes to achieve high academic goals on these exams, attend hagwons to be taught specific strategies and materials. Some students prefer going to hagwons, considering it as a source of great efficiency; however, some favor sticking with the traditional method, utilizing the non verbal resources to steer their own path.

But, that’s not the point here. Even before you choose to attend a hagwon or order your own Prep Book on Amazon, you must first decide which test you will take.

Here is an in-depth breakdown of the two admission tests to help you make up your mind.

The SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) is an aptitude test which mainly places emphasis on your critical reasoning and ability to analyze real-world problems. It basically demonstrates how “smart” you are to the colleges. In total, there are three major sections, Math, Reading, Writing and Language, with an optional essay which the majority of students yet choose to take. The length of the test is 3 hours, with an additional 50 minutes if you choose to write the essay. The composite SAT score is ranged from 400 to 1600, with the Math and English portions weighing a score of 800 each.

The ACT (American College Test), on the other hand, is an achievement test meant to measure the skills you’ve learned in school. Thus, your performance displays how hard you worked in school. The ACT, similarly, covers English, Math, Reading, and offers optional essay sections. However, an evident difference is its additional science component. Ironically, despite its name, you are not required to have prerequisites or prior knowledge for the science section. Rather, you must be capable of comprehending scientific research that may, for example, be displayed in charts and graphs. Even with its additional science portion, the ACT is timed 3 hours and 40 minutes to finish these 5 portions. Ultimately, your test scores are ranged from 1 to 36.

An evident qualitative difference lies in the timing of the tests.


The SAT, with a total of four major components including the optional essay, is timed for 3 hours and 50 minutes. Thus, according to Green Test Prep, you are expected to solve each reading question in 75 seconds, each writing question in 48 seconds, and each math question in 83 seconds.


When calculated, you must spend 52.5 seconds per reading problem, 36 seconds per English problem, 60 seconds per math problem, and 53 seconds per science problem. Such shortage of time given per question requires you to be cognizant of time and to pace yourself throughout the exam.

While time management is an important strategy when taking the SAT, it is a must, a necessity, an indispensable requirement for the ACT. It is that control variable in your lab that cannot change throughout the experiment or that mandatory five minute break during the SAT/ACT that cannot be wasted. Simply, time management is that crucial on the ACT. If you’re easily distracted or pressured by time restraints, ACT is perhaps a choice in need of reconsideration.

Content-wise, there also exists a critical difference in the skills each test requires you.


The SAT reading section is solely based on your verbal skills and reading comprehensions. It is said that the SAT is objectively easier, but intentionally confusing. Although the passages themselves are more school-curriculum familiar, the questions made by College Board are however known for its traps, with a tendency to paraphrase and generalize terms to test your general reasoning abilities.


On the other hand, the ACT, is known for its straightforward and detail-oriented questions. In general, the questions are much easier to comprehend. However, again, everything lies on your budgeting of time. The time constraints demand quick understanding of all of the content.

Having seen the quantitative and qualitative differences that prevail, let us see how the division is shaped in KIS.


“I’m not really a fast test-taker. ACT in general is a fast paced test, where you have to speed read passages and questions. I chose the SAT because especially for the reading and writing sections, I can take more time to read. Like all the other SAT takers, preparing for SAT is a huge struggle for me. However, the SAT is one of those tests where you get better scores as you study more. I am nervous about the upcoming October SAT, but I hope I can push my limit and try my best to prepare for it.”—Alice Yoo” (’18)

“I chose to take the new SAT instead of ACT because, in my opinion, learning and getting used to time management skills take more time than learning a new style of reading comprehension. Personally, my brain is dysfunctional when there are quick time restrictions, for they automatically pressure me and make me perform worse than my abilities. Preparing for the SAT might be the most arduous task that I have tried to accomplish so far in my life. The scores don’t just rise magically within a few days; it takes extreme patience, mind control, and quick adaptability to improve SAT scores. These facts make me very exhausted and even devastated sometimes.”— Kay Herr (’18)


“I believe I am stronger in STEM areas. While SAT only has a math portion, ACT has both a math and a science part as well. Therefore, I think the ACT is a better method of evaluating my academic achievements. ACT is definitely challenging, but also fun because you get a chance to solve a variety of problems!”— Amy Jung (’18)

“A senior I knew taught me about the ACT because it was the test he took, so I decided to stick to what I started with. Preparing for the ACT is more about repeated practice than learning new things. You have to quickly remember the facts you learned in school.” — Yoonki Jin (’18)

So, SAT or ACT? It is difficult to draw a definite answer. Nonetheless, despite the differences that exist between the two admission tests, neither test is prioritized over the other at colleges. In fact, some colleges have established a test-optional policy, allowing you to choose not to take the standardized college admission test. Yet, if you are still in a quandary, weigh the pros and cons to decide which test fits you, depending on which skills and strategies you have. Test the waters by solving a few practice tests because now it is a matter of personal preference, and really, is completely up to you.

–Yoo Bin Shin (‘18)

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