All Women's Talk

7 Differences between the SAT and ACT ...

By Sabrina

There are several major differences between the SAT and ACT that might factor into which test you decide to take. Both tests have their pros and cons, but you can decide which test would work best for you after checking out these differences between the SAT and ACT.

1 Timing

One difference between the SAT and ACT is the time frame. Overall, the ACT is about 2 hours and 18 minutes without writing, and 2 hours and 48 minutes with writing. However, the SAT is over 3 hours. The SAT breaks down each category— writing, critical reading, and math—into three sections, all taking between 10 and 25 minutes. However, the ACT without writing has only four sections, ranging from 35 minutes to one hour. Many students struggle with the ACT timing because the time:question ratio is smaller than on the SAT.

2 Science Section

If analyzing data is one of your strengths, you may want to show this off to universities and therefore take the ACT, which, unlike the SAT, has a science section. Scoring high on this section will bring up your whole composite score, and therefore may benefit you. However, if science is a weakness for you, you should consider that performing poorly on this section would bring down your overall score, too.

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3 Essay

On the SAT, the essay is mandatory. However with the ACT, you can choose whether or not you want to write the essay when you register for the test. Look into your prospective colleges’ testing requirements before you decide to take the ACT with or without writing. If you choose to write the ACT essay, the prompt will be slightly different from the SAT. Also, the ACT gives you 30 minutes to write, whereas the SAT gives you 25 minutes.

4 Scoring

The SAT is graded as a sum of each category; reading, writing, and math. This means that scoring extremely high in one section can have a huge impact on your overall score. The ACT on the other hand takes a composite score using the average. Every category, math, science, reading, and writing, receives a subscore. These scores are then added up and divided by four to create your ACT composite. Scoring high on different sections tends to have less of an impact on your ACT score than on your SAT.

5 Study Strategies

You wouldn’t study for a literature test the same way you would study for a math test, would you? Likewise, you shouldn’t study for the SAT and ACT the same way. The SAT is a reasoning test, which means it tests the way your brain works, whereas the ACT is a knowledge-based test. For the SAT, taking practice tests is the one of the best ways to prepare. If you plan on taking the ACT though, you’ll need to study actual information a little bit more.

6 Vocabulary

The SAT is notorious for testing students on difficult, obscure vocabulary words. In order to succeed on the critical reading portion of the test, it’s almost required that you study uncommon words like “adumbrate” and “extemporaneous”. If you love learning new words, the SAT might be the test for you, otherwise you’re probably better off with the ACT, which tests straight-forward reading comprehension.

7 Penalties

On the ACT, you benefit from guessing on questions, because you have a 25% chance at earning points for every question you guess on. However, on the SAT guessing is a little bit riskier, because you will lose 25% of a point for every wrong answer.

At the end of the day, the ACT and SAT are both equally intimidating, equally important exams you may need to take for college entrance. Some students elect to take both tests, others are happy with just one. Which test do you prefer and why?

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