Difference between SAT and ACT

A standardized test is any form of a test that requires all students to answer the same set of questions. These tests help serve as a basis of comparison between students and make it possible to compare the relative performance of individual students or groups of students.

There are various types of standardized tests, but the 2 tests that colleges in the U.S. accept are the SATs and the ACTs. The format of these 2 tests are multiple choice. The SATs, however, have a few student produced responses, which require students to fill in their answers in the provided grid-in sheet.

While standardized tests were traditionally presented on paper (SAT), they are being administered on computers (ACT) as well. 

It’s a myth that colleges prefer SATs over the ACTs, or vice versa. Colleges accept both these tests without any discrimination. 

While choosing which test to take, you need to keep in mind that the objective of both the tests is the same, that is, to gauge your academic performance which is going to reflect on how you will fare in college. So, pick a test that will help ensure you have the best odds of getting your highest possible score.

SAT vs ACT Education Facts

The main differences between the two tests are:

ACT

  • Straightforward wording
  • Less than approximately 1 minute per question in most sections
  • Includes a science section, but no outside knowledge is required for this section; it is more like comprehension. It is called science because the passages are about science. 
  • One math section – calculator allowed for all questions.
  • Essay requires students to express their position on a current topic but address many sides of the argument as a part of their essay

SAT

  • Tricky wording
  • More than 1 minute per question in most sections
  • Includes two math sections – one is a calculator section and one is a non-calculator section
  • Essay requires students to assess the persuasiveness of an essay by analysing the author’s stylistic choices

These are the basic differences between the 2 tests. I will elaborate on these differences to help you understand what the right fit for you is.

English 

SAT writing vs ACT english
SAT reading vs ACT readingi

As I have already mentioned earlier, on the ACTs, the questions are straightforward, while the language used in the SATs is wordy and tricky. While this might seem like it is better to take the ACTs, time is a big influencing factor. On the ACTs, you have roughly 1 minute per question in most sections, but on the SATs, you have more than a minute per question. 

Both, the ACTs and SATs have a reading section, but the SAT has a more challenging reading section, which includes AP-level passages.

Math

SAT math vs ACT math

ACT has only one section of math that covers a wider array of topics and allows a calculator for the entire section. No formulas are provided. If you are weak at algebra and word problems, then this is probably the test for you.

SAT has two sections of math, divided in the calculator section and non-calculator questions. The Math also has a narrower focus on algebra and word problems. A selected set of formula is provided.

Science

ACT has a science section which is more like an open book test about information provided in the test. It requires you to interpret and analyse graphs and tables. No outside knowledge is required (they are likely to ask 2 questions at the most about science in general). The passages are related to Physics, Chemistry and Biology, which is why it is called the Science section.

Essay

Although it is not important to write an essay in either of the tests, it is important to know the difference between the two. 

The ACT essay requires students to state and defend their position on a topic that’s usually inspired by current events. The SAT essay requires students to assess the persuasiveness of an essay by analysing the author’s stylistic choices.

Now that you know the difference between the two tests, you can decide which test will result in your highest score.

Should you be taking both the tests?

I would not recommend taking both the tests: colleges are accepting both the tests so preparing for both would be a waste of time. However, if you decide to prepare for both, spend more time on the test that is a better fit.

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