We have talked about the differences between the SAT and ACT.  More recently, we also talked about when to take the SAT or ACT. Another common question that we are asked by students and parents is whether colleges prefer one test over the other.

Do I need to take the SAT, ACT, or both?

Historically, the test that you were required to take was determined by the geographic locations of the schools to which you planned to apply.  The SAT, created by the College Board, was more widely used at schools on the East Coast and in California. The ACT, which is based in Iowa, was more widely used at schools in the mid-West and the South.  However, now schools will accept either test.

To parents that grew up on the East Coast and are accustomed to the idea that the SAT is non-negotiable if you plan to go to college, the idea of submitting only ACT scores can be unsettling. For one concerned parent, we called the admissions department at University of Virginia to ask if there was any preference given to submitting one test over the other.  UVA’s admissions office response was “No, and I don’t know of any college left that still does have a preference.”

The positive and negative in this is that there are choices.  The negative is that you have even more to think about as you go through the college application process in order to decide which test is the best fit.  But, the major positive is that you now have a choice to send the test that best showcases your strength.

Which scores should I send?

Most students take the SAT or ACT more than once so which scores should you send? Schools have different score reporting policies so it is best to narrow the list of schools to which you plan to apply and then  determine which scores to send.

  • Super score or Highest Section Across Test Dates: Many schools super score the SAT, which means the school will take the highest math+highest reading+highest writing (if using) for the total score even if those scores were achieved on different test dates.  You can send all of your scores or choose your highest scores for these schools.  Some schools are starting to super score the ACT but it is less common.  In Virginia, Virginia Tech and Christopher Newport University use this policy for the ACT.
  • Single Highest Test Date: These schools use the highest total SAT score on one date or the highest composite score for the ACT.  Unless a school requests that you send all score reports, it is best to only send your strongest score for these schools.
  • All Scores Required for Review: Some of the highly competitive schools want to see all test results for applicants.  In this case, it’s important to try your best and be prepared for every test administration instead of walking in cold and using one date as a “practice”.  These schools want to see all test results to discourage students from taking the test repeatedly in an effort to gain a few more points.  It also helps the school see patterns in testing history.  Large fluctuations in scores would be a negative.
  • Test Optional: With criticism of the focus on standardized testing in education and the validity of the tests to predict freshman year grades, more and more colleges are becoming “test optional”.  You can see the list of schools at Fair Test.  These schools will allow high achieving students (usually above a certain GPA) to opt to add other components to their applications, such as teacher recommendations and additional essays, in lieu of submitting test scores.  This is a good option for students that are strong academically but have a difficult time showcasing these strengths on the SAT or ACT.  In Virginia, George Mason University, Christopher Newport University, and Hampton University are all test optional.


To sum it up, the answer really rests on you.  Schools will take either test and, at times, no test at all.  If you need help determining which test is the best fit, always feel free to contact us.