When a student is trying to determine whether they should take the ACT or SAT, it is usually most effective to have them take a practice test of each to see which highlights more of their strengths. We understand, however, that not every student has the time to devote to two practice tests, and test preparation is an endeavor that should begin as soon as possible. Thus, we decided to put together a handy map of the main differences so you can figure it out in a more efficient manner. The following considerations are your keys to deciding which test to invest in.
Quite plainly, the SAT allows more time per question; the ACT only gives you 45 second per question compared to the SAT’s allowance of slightly over 1 minute per question. This is crucial to consider if a student taking the test takes more time to process questions, grapples with test anxiety, or struggles with time limitations in general. Thus, students who need that little bit of extra time per question are more likely to flourish with the SAT.
2. Difficulty Dispersion
This is a difference that seems small, but can be a huge factor depending upon the student’s test-taking style. On the SAT, each section begins with its easiest category of question and progresses in difficulty with each new question. The ACT’s difficulty dispersion is random; you can start off with the very most difficult questions sandwiched between those of lower difficulty. Thus, the ACT is better for students with great time-management on exams, where the SAT better accommodates test takers that are still working on their time-management skills.
3. The “Science” Section
The ACT section includes a Science section that is absent on the SAT. However, knowledge in biology, chemistry, or physics doesn’t make up the content of it. The science section of the ACT actually measures the student’s ability to read graphs to reach logical solutions and solve problems. This is a relief to students who are fit for the ACT in other regards but are insecure about their science comprehension. However, if your student has dysgraphia or otherwise isn’t comfortable with identifying graphical information in a compressed time period, it may be better for them to take the SAT instead.
4. Math Comprehension
If your student excels in Math, they should definitely consider the ACT. The ACT demands a bit more depth of understanding in regards to its math questions, so this slight element of complexity will be very rewarding for students with strong in both math comprehension and performance speed. However, if your student needs to keep their math problems a bit more on the plain side, the SAT will be a better experience for them.
5. Type of Essay
While the essay section is optional, students applying to competitive schools might need to squeeze in every score they can to set themselves apart. Although both essays are equally difficult, they demand very different skillsets. The SAT essay asks the student to write an analysis of another author’s literature in a way that demonstrates strengths in reading comprehension and a very technical vocabulary in regards to literary analysis.
The ACT essay portion presents a topic and three perspectives of the topic for the student to describe and evaluate within the composition of a persuasive essay. Because of the different demands, the ACT essay section favors critical thinkers with good logical reasoning. The SAT essay section favors strong readers with a good vocabulary regarding literary devices.
Essentially, the ACT is best suited for students that excel in time-management, math, graphical literacy, and logical problem-solving situations. The SAT is overall better suited for those with great reading comprehension, solid literary vocabulary, an analytical mind, and time-management skills that are still developing.
If you need more help deciding, go ahead and score yourself on the questionnaire below!
Instructions: Choose the answer that most accurately reflect you (or your student).
1. How do you process test questions?
A. Very carefully.
B. Very quickly.
2. What type of essay do you most excel at?
A. Literary analysis.
B. Persuasive/argumentative analysis.
3. How quickly can you read a dense passage?
A. I can read and comprehend it at a fair speed.
B. I can read them okay, but I need to reread a bit if I have to analyze.
4. How comfortable are you at math?
A. I’m more comfortable with the basics.
B. I’m comfortable with subjects up to pre-cal and can work problems out efficiently.
5. How quickly can you generally complete a test?
A. I generally need the entire allotment of time.
B. I am generally a very efficient test-taker.
6. How are you with graphs?
A. I usually need a little time to decode them.
B. I can quickly understand and grab specific info from a graph.
7. Which do you prefer?
A. Tricky questions, but with more time per problem.
B. straightforward problems, but with less time per problem.
Now that you are finished, count your total number of responses for answer A and answer B.
If you chose response A more, you are more suited for the SAT.
If you chose response B more, you are more suited for the ACT.
Now that you have somewhere to start, go ahead and feel free to start prepping!