The SAT and the ACT are exams that you’re required to take to gain admittance to college. There are some similarities and differences, and we want to break it down for you. While a lot of the content is similar, it’s important to take note of the structure, timing, and how the tests are scored. Read on to get the lowdown.
- 2 sections: Math (800 points), Evidence-Based Reading & Writing (800 points)
- Optional Essay section (though let us just say that we feel similarly about the optional essay section as we do about optional essay supplements...nothing is optional.)
- Scored out of 1600 (sum of 2 sections)
- 3 hours 50 min (with essay)
- 3 hours (no essay)
- Math: basic arithmetic, algebra 1 and 2, geometry, trigonometry, data analysis
- Reading: 5 passages
- Writing: there is a source text that you read. You must interpret and communicate your comprehension of the text in essay form
- Allowed for only some Math questions
- 4 sections: Reading (36), English (36), Science Reasoning (36), Math (36) -- all multiple choice
- Optional Writing section
- Scored on a scale of 1-36 (composite of all 4)
- 3 hours 40 mins (with essay)
- 2 hours 55 mins (no essay)
- Math: basic arithmetic, algebra 1 and 2, geometry, trigonometry
- Reading: 5 passages
- Science: tests your ability to think critically and analyze data (does not test your knowledge of science concepts or theories at all)
- Writing: there is an issue and you must illustrate your ability to comprehend and evaluate, as well as draw a conclusion and analysis from the issue
- Allowed throughout Math questions
- Content: there is a significant amount of content overlap. You will be using a lot of the same skills, but it ultimately comes down to the details and smaller focuses on the test. Read more below.
- Time: the time it takes to complete each exam is about the same.
- The structure of the questions are a bit different. Some people say that the questions on the ACT are more straight-forward in terms of working.
- Math: both cover and emphasize algebra. The ACT, however, also tends to cover a wider range of material, with a lot more geometry and trigonometry questions than that SAT. The ACT also does not give you any formulas, whereas the SAT does.
- Calculators: you can use them for all ACT math questions, and not all SAT math questions.
- Science section: The ACT has a science section. The content does not cover science-based material and knowledge, but there is science-based terminology used to create what are essentially reading comprehension and analysis questions.
- The essay & evidence: The SAT more explicitly asks you to provide evidence for your claim throughout the test as well as in the essay.
What’s the best way to decide which test is best? Take one of each. Take a diagnostic and see how you feel about as well as score on them. There aren’t any hard and fast rules on which students prefer a certain test, or if you’re a strong student in a particular subject if you should take one of the exams over the other. Ultimately, practice makes perfect, so once you decide on an exam, practice, practice, practice. So much of the test has to do with your anxiety level and your nerves. If you become familiar with taking the tests, then you’ll do great, because none of it will feel foreign or come as a surprise. You should be taking ~1 practice test/week in the months leading up to the exam, skipping the occasional week so as to avoid burnout.
If you need any tips on test-prep or if you have any questions, feel free to reach out to us. We’re here to help you.