ACT vs. SAT: Six Differences Between the Two Tests

The ACT and SAT are both recognized in the US as standardized tests for college admission. The exam measures the proficiency of high school students in several critical areas. These are Mathematics, Science, English, and Reading Comprehension. They might also include an essay writing section; however, it will not have any merit on your final score.

The scoring system used only considers the number of correct answers and does not penalize you for wrong answers. When applying for universities and colleges in the country, you can choose to take any of the two tests since schools recognize test scores from both tests. At this point, you are probably wondering how the two differ.

Below are six key differences between the ACT and SAT to help you decide which exam to take.

  • 1. The Science Section
  • One notable difference between the two tests is that the SAT has no separate Science Section. However, science questions do appear throughout the test. Your ability to understand scientific data and passages may be tested in the Math, Writing, and Reading sections. As for the ACT, the Science section makes up one-fourth of your overall ACT results. Therefore, if you’re knowledgeable in science, you may opt to take the ACT to increase your score.

  • 2. No Calculators Allowed – Math Subsection
  • The ACT allows you to use a calculator when answering all the Math questions. However, the SAT has a Math subsection that doesn’t allow the use of calculators. It consists of 20 questions and has a time limit of 25 minutes. If you’re not confident about solving Math questions sans calculator, you can choose to take the ACT. It is important to note, however, that all Math questions from the ACT and SAT can technically be solved without a calculator.

  • 3. Given Math Formulas
  • You should also know that the SAT gives some useful diagrams and formulas related to Geometry. This will be useful if you have a tendency to forget formulas necessary for solving the questions. These Math formulas can help increase your chances of getting a higher score.

  • 4. Fill-in Math Questions
  • You might also want to consider the fact that the SAT includes math questions that require you to fill in your own answer. There are 13 grid-in questions in the SAT Math section, which is about 22 percent of the Math section. If you prefer having multiple choices all the way, you can opt to take the ACT instead.

  • 5. Chronological and Evidence-Based Reading Comprehension
  • The SAT Reading section uses a chronological order when it comes to arranging the questions. The questions thus flow smoothly and would be easier to follow. However, do take note that most questions require you to cite specific paragraphs or lines you encountered in the passage.

  • 6. Essay Topic
  • Although the essay part is optional in both the SAT and ACT, the topic will usually be different for the two tests. For the ACT, the writing section will require you to read a short passage regarding a certain issue. You must analyze the various perspectives given on the issue and state your opinions accordingly. For the SAT, you are also given a short passage to analyze, but you cannot freely give your own opinion. The SAT requires you to have excellent reading comprehension skills for you to be able to examine what the author intended.

As aforementioned, the results from either test will be accepted by most admission boards. It would be a good idea to take both, but not everyone can afford to do so. If you find yourself in such a situation, the best thing to do would be the weigh which test is better suited for you.

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