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Choosing Between SAT Essay & ACT Writing: How To Decide
Writing is a skill you’ll need to hone for college and will use for the rest of your life, even if you enter a STEM profession, so it makes sense that colleges want to see an indication of your writing ability. That’s why both the SAT and ACT offer a writing section in which you’ll be charged with crafting a well-written essay.
On the SAT, this section is called the Essay, while the ACT refers to this section as Writing. While you are not required to complete either of these tests when you take the rest of the SAT or ACT, many colleges require this component for admission. Even if the colleges on your list don’t require it, you should consider sending your scores, since writing is so important for your college career and beyond.
While the SAT and ACT are similar in some ways, the writing components account for some of the largest differences between the two tests. For one, the sections emphasize different skill sets, so the major you’re anticipating choosing could also help guide your choice between the two. Read on to learn about the distinguishing characteristics between the components and find out which is the better option for you.
The SAT Essay is a separate test from Writing and Language, which is required and more comparable to the section formerly known as SAT Verbal. For the Essay, you are allotted 50 minutes to analyze an argument from a passage. Since your analysis is based on a text, this section also tests your reading comprehension, in addition to other skills. You won’t be required to use outside examples, but need to cite evidence from the text to support your thesis. You will receive a score from 2–8 in each of three areas measuring reading, analysis, and writing skills.
To learn more about the SAT Essay, read What Makes the New SAT Essay Section Different from the Old One?.
You’re allotted a shorter amount of time for the ACT Writing: 40 minutes to the SAT Essay’s 50 minutes. For this test, you’ll analyze an issue and develop your own argument, rather than evaluate an argument in a text. You will receive a short prompt along with three perspectives. You may choose to argue one perspective, a combination of two or more perspectives, or none of them; however, you do need to develop a thesis and stick to it throughout your essay, as well as use plenty of examples from your own life to support it.
For ACT Writing, you will receive a grade from 1–6 from two separate graders for a combined score of 2–12. The graders evaluate your essay based on language, argument, and how well you articulate your argument.
Which Test Is Better for You?
Ultimately, the test you choose to take should depend on how confident you are in different areas.
You’ll have more time to complete the SAT Essay, but should also factor in the additional tasks you’ll need to perform when completing the test. You’ll be reading a substantial passage, and must cite evidence from the text itself to support your thesis. Your score will depend on your ability to read quickly and accurately, as well as understand a complex text. The SAT asks you to construct a formal, five-paragraph essay in which you’ll essentially analyze how well the author of the text conveys his or her argument, rather than develop an argument on the subject matter within the text.
Meanwhile, you’ll have a shorter amount of time to complete the ACT Writing section, but will be tasked with fewer objectives. Additionally, the passage you’ll read is typically much shorter than that in the SAT—as much as half as long. Since there are relatively few guidelines for this essay aside from developing an argument in response to the prompt, you’ll have more freedom to craft a response in your writing style and use examples from your personal life, rather than citing examples from the text. Unlike the SAT, the ACT does not offer additional parameters on the length and structure of the essay.
So which test should you take?
Again, that depends on your personal strengths. While the ACT ultimately offers more freedom, writing an essay in a short amount of time can be a difficult task if you don’t have many guidelines and are working outside a framework. However, if that type of assignment appeals to you, and you’re adept at strong analysis and thinking quickly on your feet, the ACT Writing is a likely a good choice for you.
If you prefer more structure in your writing, the SAT Essay may be a better choice. The SAT offers significantly more guidelines and a framework for the different stages of creating your essay, from analyzing the text to outlining a response to writing the final essay. Do factor how strong you are in reading comprehension, though. As with the ACT Writing, you’ll need to employ analytical skills, but in this case, you’ll be working with a much longer and oftentimes more complex text.
Bear in mind that both the SAT Essay and ACT Writing require strong writing skills. These are writing tests, after all. Don’t assume that one tests values writing skills more than the other, and therefore you should pick the one where writing matters less. Instead, focus on type of writing and additional skills the test requires in order to write and complete the assignment well.
For more advice on choosing between the two tests, read SAT vs. ACT: Everything You Need to Know.
Looking for some more help for acing the SAT? The CollegeVine SAT Tutoring Program will help you achieve top scores on your test. We’ll pair you with two private tutors, one for English and writing, and one for math and science. All of our tutors have scored in the 99th percentile on the section they are teaching and are chosen based on teaching skills and ability to relate to their students.