ACT vs. SAT: Which Are You More Suited For?

By  Layton Funk

Published on  May 17, 2019

Firstly, these two exams are accepted at all colleges and universities in the United States and serve the same function: to show colleges a gauge of your ability to problem solve and complete a standardized exam in a timely manner. How they reach that point are slightly different, however, especially in terms of structure. The SAT has 2 scoring portions (3 if you count the optional essay). These are English and Math. Each one has two sections from there: evidence-based reading and writing/language, and non-calculator math and calculator math, respectively. On the other hand, the ACT has 4 scoring portions (5 if you count the optional writing section). These are English, reading, mathematics, and science. There are many technical differences between the two exams, most of which can be summed up in this overview:

 

  ACT SAT
Total Time 2 hours 55 minutes

3 hours 35 minutes w/Writing

3 hours

3 hours 50 minutes w/Essay

Time/Section English: 45 minutes

Math: 60 minutes

Reading: 35 minutes

Science: 35 minutes

Writing (optional): 40 minutes

Reading: 65 minutes

Writing/Language: 35 minutes

Non-Calculator Math: 25 minutes

Calculator Math: 55 minutes

Essay (optional): 50 minutes

Question Count English: 75 questions

Math: 60 questions

Reading: 40 questions

Science: 40 questions

Writing (optional): 1 essay

Reading: 52 questions

Writing/Language: 44 questions

Non-Calculator Math: 20 questions

Calculator Math: 38 questions

Essay (optional): 1 essay

Time/Question

(assuming reading passages is part of the questions)

Reading: 53 seconds/question

English: 36 seconds/question

Math: 60 seconds/question

Science: 53 seconds/question

Reading: 75 seconds/question

Writing: 48 seconds/question

Math (total): 83 seconds/question

Calculator: 87 sec/? Non: 75 sec/?

Scoring Total Score Range: 1-36

Total score is an average of all four sections (1-36)

Optional Writing: 2-12, doesn’t count towards total

Total Score Range: 400-1600

Reading/writing and both math are 2 sections worth 200-800 each

Optional Essay: 1-8 x3, doesn’t count towards total

Cost $46.00 without Writing

$62.50 with Writing

$47.50 without Essay

$64.50 with Essay

 

ACT SAT
36 1570-1600
35 1530-1560
34 1490-1520
33 1450-1480
32 1420-1440
31 1390-1410
30 1360-1380
29 1330-1350
28 1300-1320
27 1260-1290
26 1230-1250
25 1200-1220
24 1160-1190
23 1130-1150
22 1100-1120
21 1060-1090
20 1030-1050
19 990-1020
18 960-980
17 920-950
16 880-910
15 830-870
14 780-820
13 730-770
12 690-720
11 650-680
10 620-640
9 590-610

Based on all that information, we can make a few conclusions: you will get more time on the SAT than the ACT per question, the prices are comparable, math is more heavily weighted in the SAT, and the ACT has a science section whereas the SAT does not. Something we couldn’t deduce just from that overview, since we want to split hairs, the SAT goes more into depth in a narrower field in math while the ACT is broader and shallower in math. The ACT covers more subjects like logarithms, trigonometry, and more graphs and tables; the SAT has more difficult algebra and calculus problems but doesn’t have as many geometry or graphing problems. Furthermore, the ACT asks its questions in a much more straightforward manner while the SAT test for reading comprehension during the entire exam, including math wherein there are many word problems. Lastly, the ACT gives 5 answer choices and is only multiple choice in math, but the SAT gives just 4 and has some student generated (grid-in) responses. The SAT also gives students some important formulas (like area, volume, etc.) before each math section, meaning the ACT requires a bit more memorization.

 

The writing/English sections are virtually the same and the reading sections are quite similar, but a few differences stand out. One is that all the questions in the SAT reading section are chronologically ordered, meaning the questions go in line with the passage one by one. The ACT doesn’t have evidence-support questions like the SAT does, lending credence that the SAT is slightly more heavily focused on reading comprehension. One could argue that since the SAT lacks the science portion that the ACT has. This is more about critically analyzing graphs, tables, and figures all surrounding experiments or other scientific reports.

 

All of that considered, you can pick one or the other to show to colleges, but you can take both exams and see which one you did better on! They are on different scales, but there is a nice conversion you can find many places online like the official ACT and SAT websites, including just to the right here —>

 

Below is a diagnostic questionnaire with statements with which you can agree or disagree. Go ahead and answer those questions and below that will tell you the results!

 

Statement Agree Disagree
I struggle with geometry and trigonometry
I’m good at solving math problems without a calculator
Algebra is a strength of mine
I’m not very comfortable with logarithms
I like to come up with my own answers for math questions
I prefer to take my time and double check most problems
I tend to do well on mathematical word problems
I don’t remember math formulas easily
I normally do well on math tests
Chronologically ordered questions are easier to follow
I have trouble critically analyzing graphs and figures
It’s easier for me to analyze something than to explain my opinion

If you agreed with most of these statements, you are most likely more well suited to the SAT; if you disagreed, you will probably lean more towards taking the ACT. If it’s about 50/50, then either exam should work well for you! This is just to get a feel for your mindset, how you take tests, and how comfortable you are with certain material. Taking an actual practice exam either way will give you a better inkling as which you are stronger in, but it’s better to focus on one and commit to it! Always work on test-taking strategies like time-management, process of elimination, and finding the tricks and shortcuts to any problem, and then work on learning content. Also, never wait too long to ask for help and find a tutor: the sooner, the better!

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