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ACT vs. SAT

Updated: Oct 24, 2023

The ACT and SAT are standardized tests used for college admissions in the United States. Both tests are used by colleges and universities as part of their admissions process, and students often choose one or the other based on their strengths and weaknesses. The tests require different strategies and it is important to take practice tests to determine which test is the best fit.

THE ACT

  • Sections: english, mathematics (calculator), reading, and science, (optional essay)

  • Time: 2 hr 55 minutes w/o essay; 3 hrs 35 minutes w/essay.

  • Score: scale of 1 to 36, the composite score is the avg of four section scores


THE SAT

  • Sections: reading, writing and language, math (with calculator) and math (no calculator)

  • Time: 3 hrs

  • Score: scale of 400 to 1600, test results combined from two 200-800 point subject areas


Important Factors

Test Format and Timing:

The SAT allocates more time per question when compared to the ACT, which demands a quicker tempo. Consequently, efficient time management is a crucial consideration for ACT test takers.


Content and Assessment:

Both the SAT and ACT assess critical thinking and analytical skills, but the ACT has a more curriculum-based approach. The tests evaluate similar subjects, including reading, writing, and mathematics. Neither exam penalizes students for incorrect or blank answers, rather they award points solely for correct responses.


Question Style

SAT questions may feature slightly trickier wording than ACT test questions, which tend to be more straightforward. Of course, experiences with these formats can vary depending on the individual and their personal learning style.


Mathematics:

The ACT and SAT encompass a range of mathematical topics, including arithmetic, algebra I and II, geometry, and trigonometry. The ACT tends to delve into slightly more intricate and diverse mathematical areas, such as logarithms, matrices, and additional topics in trigonometry, probability, and statistics. Conversely, the SAT’s math section leans more towards assessing reasoning and data analysis skills. Another noteworthy distinction is that while the ACT allows for calculator use throughout its math section, the SAT divides its math section into segments that permit and prohibit calculator use. This is intended to challenge student’s computational skills and mental arithmetic.


Reading and Writing

Both tests incorporate reading, writing, and language sections that are passage-based, but they each present distinct challenges and focal points for students. The ACT’s reading passages tend to be longer and place a significant emphasis on extracting main ideas and themes, requiring students to adeptly navigate through comprehensive textual information. On the other hand, the SAT often demands a more detail-oriented focus, prompting students to hone in on specific elements and subtleties within the passages. There are often paired passages that require students to synthesize information from two-related texts. Additionally, it is worth noting that the ACT offers an optional Writing section, which is not true of the SAT. The ACT english section values grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure. The SAT writing and language section focuses on rhetoric, style and persuasive passages.


Science

Unlike the SAT, the ACT features a dedicated science section, potentially making it more appealing to students with strengths in math and science, although this section also requires proficient reading skills and aptitude in data interpretation. While the SAT may lack a designated science section, it integrates questions of similar data interpretation and scientific reasoning skills. These questions are dispersed throughout the test, ensuring that these abilities are still assessed.



Success Tips

General Tips to Succeed:

  1. Understand the Test Format

  2. Create a Study Plan

  3. Practice Regularly

  4. Learn from Mistakes

  5. Time Management

  6. Stay Relaxed


Specific Tips for SAT:

  1. Evidence-Based Reading and Writing:

    1. The reading and writing sections require strong analytical and reading comprehension skills. Practice reading and analyzing passages critically.

  2. Math Section:

    1. Review essential math topics, including algebra, geometry, and data analysis. This includes problem-solving and data interpretation.

    2. No Calculator Section:

      1. Be prepared for the math section without a calculator. Practice solving math problems by hand to improve your speed and accuracy.


Specific Tips for ACT:

  1. Speed and Accuracy:

    1. Practice answering questions quickly while maintaining accuracy.

    2. Skip and return to difficult questions if needed.

  2. Science Section:

    1. Familiarize yourself with the format of the science section, which involves interpreting charts, graphs, and data.

    2. Focus on understanding trends and relationships.

  3. English section:

    1. Review grammar and punctuation rules

  4. Math Section:

    1. Know how to efficiently use your calculator for the math section

    2. Focus on algebra, geometry, and trigonometry concepts

  5. Reading Comprehension:

    1. Practice reading and comprehending passages efficiently

    2. Focus on main ideas, supporting details, and the author's perspective


Additional Tips:

Getting a tutor can provide vital assistance in keeping you on track, teaching you effective strategies, and explaining challenging material. In addition, it is crucial to use official SAT and ACT prep materials, including practice tests. Remember that success on these tests often requires consistent effort and practice. Tailor your study plan to your strengths and weaknesses, and don't be discouraged by setbacks. Retake the test if necessary! With persistence and effective strategies, you can improve your performance and achieve your desired scores on the SAT and ACT.


Fun Quiz

Take the fun quiz below to assist in deciding whether the SAT or ACT might be a better fit for you. If you find yourself in agreement with most of the statements, you may be inclined towards the SAT, while if you disagree, the ACT might be a better choice for you.




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