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Score at the Top Blog

SAT or ACT: For Which Test Should You Prep?

Monday, November 28, 2016

The simple answer to that question: prep for the test on which you’re going to do the best, though that “simple answer” requires some unpacking to be meaningful. We’ll help.

Time per Question

This is major. The ACT allows significantly less time per question than does the SAT. For example, the SAT’s Reading section allows 43% more time/question than does the ACT’s comparable section, and the SAT’s Writing and Language section allows 33% more time/question than does the ACT’s comparable section. If the passages and questions  were all of equal difficulty, the SAT would be an obvious test choice. While that’s generally so for grammar sections of the tests (ACT’s English and SAT’s Writing and Language sections), the same can’t be said about the two tests’ Reading passages and questions. Our next blog will give you a detailed comparison of the two. Regardless, the ACT requires more speed, so if time management is an issue for you, the SAT might be a better test for you.

Science Questions

Another major difference is that the ACT has a Science section. The SAT “sprinkles in” some science-like questions here and there in all its other sections – apparently so that it can make the spurious claim to have tested students’ science knowledge in a meaningful way. But there’s no comparison between the two. Further, while the ACT’s previous Science sections required only the ability to read, correctly interpret charts and graphs, and use logic, the current ACT contains a smattering of questions that actually require some basic knowledge of science and rudimentary physics. So if you break out in a cold sweat and start hyperventilating at the mere thought of having to complete a section titled “Science” and answering some questions that require basic science knowledge, the ACT probably isn’t your test.

Math Questions

Yet another major difference is in the two tests’ treatment of math, and here, too, the SAT provides more time (38%) per question than does the ACT. But there’s a trade-off: the SAT’s math questions often require multi-step, multi-concept problem-solving, while the ACT’s math questions generally involve straightforward application of a single math concept.

Content is significantly different, too: almost two-thirds of the SAT’s math focus is algebra, with very few geometry questions, while the ACT’s math questions are more evenly balanced between algebra and geometry. Further, while the ACT presents solely multiple-choice questions, 13 of the SAT’s 58 questions are grid-ins for which students must calculate their own answers.

Other differences include the ACT permitting use of a calculator for all of its math questions, while the SAT has a no-calculator-permitted section that comprises more than one-third of its total math questions and, inexplicably, allows less time/question on that section than it does on the calculator-permitted section. Last, the SAT provides some formulas that are helpful on geometry questions, while the ACT provides no formulas.

Having described the above, remember: what matters is on which of the two tests you’ll do best, because that’s the test you’ll want to focus on for your preparation. Here are the best ways to figure that out before you begin in-depth prep:

  1. Contact us to arrange an SAT vs ACT assessment test
  2. On separate Saturday mornings at Score At The Top, complimentary SAT and ACT simulation test, timed and proctored to simulate actual testing conditions
  3. Compare your PSAT scores to those you get on one of our Saturday morning ACT simulations.
  4. Review our SAT/ACT comparison chart