ACT vs SAT: 7 Definitive Questions To Decide Which Is Right For You

  • The ACT vs SAT decision is an important one that families find themselves confronting when they are going through the college application process. A recent redesign of the SAT exam has resulted in a much greater degree of similarity between the ACT and SAT. However, there are still a number of key differences that you need to be aware of when evaluating which to write. Students often perform better in one than in the other, depending on their academic strengths, thus, selecting one or the other could significantly impact a student’s college prospects. Before we talk about the differences between the two lets take a look at some of the similarities.

    ACT vs SAT: Similarities

    • Both exams have positive scoring, wrong answers do not result in score subtractions.
    • The content of each exam is similar, with both the ACT and SAT containing a math section, a reading and an english section.
    • The ACT and SAT both have an optional essay writing section
    • Colleges accept both exams as part of a student’s admission application

    ACT vs SAT: Differences & Questions to Decide Which To Take

    Despite the above similarities there are a number of differences in content, structure and other factors that you need to be aware of when evaluating the ACT vs SAT decision. Below are 8 key questions to ask yourself to help you decide which to write.

    1. Is Science One of Your Strengths?

    The ACT exam contains a section that is fully devoted toward science questions, while the SAT exam does not. In fact, this science section makes up a 25% of the overall ACT score. The SAT exam does have a few questions that relate to science, data and scientific concepts but these are minor in comparison to the science section contained in the ACT exam. If you are confident in your science ability, this 25% of the ACT will help raise your score.

    2. How Good Are You With Time Crunches When Writing An Exam?

    The SAT exam has more time per question than does the ACT exam. If you are someone who does best without a stressful time crunch when answering questions then the SAT could be right for you. To illustrate the difference, in the reading section of the ACT you have 53 seconds per question, while you have 75 seconds per question in the same section of the SAT exam. The differences per question are similar throughout both exams.

    3. Calculator vs No Calculator?

    The ACT allows a calculator for all math questions, while the SAT contains a section of math in which you are NOT allowed to use a calculator. Although this section of math on the SAT is easier, if you are someone who is only strong at math when you have access to a calculator and not so much when you don’t then the ACT could be right for you.

    4. How Good Are You At Math?

    Math makes up 25% of the ACT and 50% of the SAT. If you are good at math you have a much larger section that is a strength in the SAT. If math is not a strength then you will want to limit your exposure and consider the ACT which has the much smaller math section.

    5. Multiple Choice or Fill-Ins?

    Some students excel at multiple choice, eliminating options and finding the correct answer even if they wouldn’t know it without the multiple choice options. Some students prefer the option to show some working and get points that way. If you prefer multiple choice, the ACT math section is 100% multiple choice based, while the SAT math section is 22% grid-based, where you fill in your answers.

    6. What Are Your Writing Strengths?

    The ACT and SAT both contain an essay section which is optional. This essay section is structured differently depending on which you take. For the SAT you will be given a section to read before having to analyze this section, without giving your own opinion. For the ACT you will be given a section to read, and you will be able to give your own thoughts on the section. Some students are good at critically analyzing content, while others are great at expressing their opinions.

    7. Can You Easily Memorize Your Math Formulas?

    The SAT exam provides you with diagrams and math formulas to use during the test, while the ACT does not. If you are good at memorizing and remembering math formulas to be easily recalled during a test situation then this won’t be a problem during the ACT. However, if you need extra assistance with math formulas then the SAT could be the exam for you.

    Evaluating your abilities in relation to these questions will help you decide which to focus on when it comes to the ACT vs SAT debate. To summarize, answer the questions on the checklist below to get an idea of which would be right for you.

    ACT vs SAT: ACA Questionnaire

    Statement Agree Disagree
    I am not great at Science
    I am good at solving math problems without a calculator.
    It’s easier for me to analyze something than to explain my opinion.
    I normally do well in Math
    I am not very good at recalling math formulas
    Time constraints negatively affect my test performance
    I prefer to show my working rather than multiple choice

    If you answered with mostly agrees, then the SAT exam is the test for you. If you answered mostly disagrees, then the ACT exam is for you. A mixture of agrees and disagrees means you could take either test. It would also be helpful to take the ACT practice test and SAT practice test in order to get an idea of your ACT score and SAT score and how they compare. Taking these ACT and SAT practice tests will also be a good way for you to quickly identify which you would prefer to write when it comes time for ACT registration and SAT registration. Be sure to keep up with the SAT test dates and ACT test dates in your area in order to ensure that you have a good time frame for practicing and acing either the ACT or SAT. Finally, it is worth noting that some people choose to take both tests, this is also an option, but not a necessary one if you focus on achieving a good grade in one or the other.

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