SAT vs. ACT
SAT vs. ACT
Which Test SHould YOu take?
SAT or ACT? A question as old as time (well, really just since 1959 when the ACT was introduced as a competitor to the SAT). Star Tutors wants to help you decide by comparing the sections on the test side-by-side. After digesting the information and attempting to decide which test is best for YOU, we find most students benefit from taking a full-length SAT and a full-length ACT practice test before concluding if one test is a better fit. After taking both tests, some students have found their initial “assumed preference” is NOT actually the test best suited for them!
SAT Reading vs. ACT Reading:
Let’s start with this question: when taking a test, would you prefer harder questions with more time or easier questions with less time? This is the fundamental difference between the SAT and the ACT Reading sections.
The SAT Reading gives students 1 minute and 15 seconds to answer each question, while the ACT Reading allows 53 seconds per question. That extra 22 seconds can make a huge difference for students who need a little more time to comprehend passages. However, the ACT Reading passages and questions are slightly simpler and more straightforward than those on the SAT. For example, the SAT always includes at least one historical passage written before 1900, while the ACT only uses contemporary passages.
In the end, students who like easier passages and don't mind the time pressure often prefer the ACT. Students who are more methodical with their reading approach and like to spend more time analyzing each question often prefer the SAT.
SAT Writing and Language vs. ACT English:
The two most comparable sections of the SAT and ACT are the Writing and English sections. Both tests assess the exact same skills with the exact same question types. These sections require students to know concrete grammar rules and logical paragraph construction. While the ACT is still the faster of the two (36 seconds per question on the ACT vs. 48 seconds on the SAT), the time difference isn't as pronounced as other sections. While students aiming for very high scores will have to study some slightly obscure grammar rules, the good news is that students tend to do well on these sections because they read and write English everyday! Every single one of the grammar and composition rules needed to ace this section can be found in the Star Tutors Perfect SAT and Perfect ACT tutorials.
SAT Math vs. ACT Math:
From a broad perspective, the SAT and ACT Math sections are very similar; they both test a student’s quantitative reasoning skills and knowledge of high school math concepts. However, there are a number of specifics that set them apart. Here are the most important differences:
- Timing: Continuing the pattern we saw in the Reading sections, the SAT asks slightly more complex questions in a longer amount of time and the ACT asks slightly simpler questions in a shorter amount of time. In total, the SAT gives 83 seconds per math question, while the ACT only gives 60 seconds.
- Depth vs. Breadth: The ACT covers more content but at a relatively surface level, while the SAT asks about fewer math topics but much more in-depth. For example, the ACT has questions going up through Pre-Calculus topics, like matrices and logarithms, but these questions only require basic understanding of the concepts. The SAT stops at Algebra 2, but features some relatively obscure topics like polynomial long division and quadratic equivalent forms.
- Calculator Use: The SAT features No-Calculator questions, whereas the ACT allows students to use a calculator on every question. If you’re a student who likes to have a calculator by your side, even for basic calculations, this might be a vote for the ACT.
- Percent of Total Score: The ACT Math score accounts for 25% of the total composite score, but the SAT Math is a whopping 50% of the final score. If you’re a rock star in Math, this might be an easy way to a great score on the SAT! If you think Math might be your weakest section, the ACT offers three other sections to demonstrate your strengths.
In summary, students who are comfortable moving fast and memorizing a few new math topics might prefer the ACT, and students who like time to convert words into numbers and felt very comfortable in Algebra 2 might prefer the SAT.
The ACT Science is essentially another reading comprehension section, designed to test a student’s data analysis skills. Students are given a very short amount of time (53 seconds per question) to read the question, analyze a graph/table/diagram, and then draw a very quick conclusion. While the test requires fairly little science background knowledge (only 2-4 questions per test), a student who is strong in high school science classes will have a general understanding of terminology and content that will help them answer questions more quickly. These students might prefer the ACT.
Fortunately, the science questions are not particularly difficult. If students follow the strategies included in the Star Tutors Perfect ACT Tutorial and discussed in the Star Tutors ACT prep classes, the ACT Science section can be mastered.
Although the SAT does not have a specific science section, there are graph and data questions sprinkled throughout the whole test, which are designed to assess analytical skills in reading and understanding science topics, similar to skills assessed on the ACT Science section.
Hopefully, all of that wasn't too much information! We feel very strongly that students should always have as much information as possible to make the best decisions possible, and that's how we teach the test! Using our programs, students will learn to embrace the SAT and the ACT as a necessary piece of their college application. This approach has been tailored to fit any learning style, and our test prep experts have over 35 years of combined experience. We hope to see you in one of our programs soon!