The college application process can be exciting and nerve-wracking for high school students. One of their pivotal decisions is choosing between the ACT and the SAT and which test is a better fit for them. These standardized tests can play a crucial role in college admissions, and understanding the differences between them can help students make informed decisions about which test to take. In this blog post, we will discuss the main differences between the ACT and SAT, covering aspects such as timing, format, math, science sections, the optional essay component, and the scoring.
Note: The SAT format will change in 2024, so keep reading for more information!
Timing and Format
The ACT and SAT are standardized tests designed to evaluate a student’s readiness for college. However, they differ in terms of timing and format. The ACT consists of four main sections: English, Math, Reading, and Science. Additionally, there is an optional Writing (Essay) section. The test is approximately 2 hours and 55 minutes long, excluding the optional essay, which adds 40 minutes.
On the other hand, the SAT comprises two main sections: Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW) and Math. The SAT no longer offers optional essays, making the overall test timing slightly shorter. The entire test duration is about 3 hours.
English: 45 minutes Reading: 65 minutes
Math: 60 minutes Writing: 35 minutes
Reading: 35 minutes Math no calc: 25 minutes
Science: 35 minutes Math calc: 55 minutes
Optional essay: 40 minutes No optional essay
Overall, the ACT has more questions with less time question when compared to the SAT.
Regarding the math sections of the ACT and SAT, there are notable differences in content, approach, and calculator usage.
The ACT Math section covers a broader range of math concepts, including algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and precalculus. The Math section is all multiple-choice, and calculators are allowed for all questions in this section, reflecting a more practical approach to assessing mathematical skills.
Conversely, the SAT Math section focuses on algebra, problem-solving, data analysis, and some advanced math topics. Notably, the SAT includes a “No Calculator” section where specific questions must be solved without a calculator, testing students’ mental ability to conceptualize and solve problems. Both sections of the SAT also incorporate multiple-choice and hand-write-in questions.
Science Section of the ACT
One of the distinct features of the ACT is its Science section, which is not present in the SAT. However, the term “Science” can be misleading, as this section primarily assesses a student’s ability to interpret and analyze scientific data rather than testing specific scientific knowledge. It evaluates data interpretation, graph analysis, and scientific reasoning skills.
Students should approach the ACT Science section as a test of critical thinking and analytical skills rather than a traditional science knowledge assessment. This section may require reading and understanding various scientific passages and graphs to answer questions accurately.
Optional Essay Part
The ACT offers an optional essay, whereas the SAT no longer includes an optional one.
The ACT essay prompts typically present a complex issue and ask students to take a stance, provide evidence, and present their perspectives. Test-takers are expected to critically analyze the provided viewpoints and construct a well-organized essay that showcases their writing and analytical skills.
Scoring plays a pivotal role in the ACT and SATs, offering insights into a student’s academic strengths and readiness for college. The ACT adopts a scoring scale of 1 to 36 for each of its four main sections—English, Math, Reading, and Science. These section scores are averaged to calculate the Composite Score, while the optional Writing (Essay) section is scored separately on a scale of 2 to 12. On the other hand, the SAT employs a scoring scale of 200 to 800 for its two main sections—Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW) and Math. The Total Score, ranging from 400 to 1600, is the sum of these two section scores. Understanding the distinctions in scoring systems between the ACT and SAT is essential for students as they embark on their college application journey, helping them interpret their scores accurately and make well-informed choices regarding their preferred test and preparation strategies.
The decision between the ACT and SAT can significantly impact a student’s application to college admissions. Students can tailor their preparation strategies to their strengths and weaknesses by understanding the main differences between these two standardized tests.
Ultimately, the choice between the ACT and SAT should be based on a student’s strengths, preferences, and the requirements of the colleges they are applying to. Regardless of the test chosen, diligent preparation and practice are vital to achieving success and showcasing one’s academic potential to prospective colleges.
If your child is starting the test prep process, the first step is to have them take a free practice ACT and SAT so that we can learn their baseline score, strengths, and weaknesses and determine which test will be a better fit. iAchieve Learning offers these free practice tests for students, and there are two ways to do this. If you are local, you can register for one of our upcoming free practice tests at the Des Plaines Library. If you are not local or cannot make one of the dates, we can mail you the free practice test (only offered in the US). Contact us today have a free practice test sent to you!
Also, the format of the SAT will change in 2024, and we will provide families with additional information on this. iAchieve Learning is hosting a free parent webinar called The SAT is Going Digital! What Families Need to Know will occur on Wednesday, August 23, 2023, and Wednesday, September 14, 2023. We invite you to join us so you can be informed of these upcoming changes!