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10 Factors That Would Differentiate SAT and ACT

Categories: ACT, SAT |

College preparation can be a stressful time for high schoolers and one of the first big hurdles they must face is the dreaded standardized test. To optimize your potential as you prepare to take the test, you’ll have to decide which exam to go with, the SAT or ACT. The first question you might ask is which one is easier. Unfortunately, the answer to that isn’t a simple one word answer.

Because the exams are designed to test similar areas, you are going to face similar challenges in each test. More importantly, the differences you will see are going to be more suited to one personality over another. So instead of simply asking which test is easier, the better question to ask is which one is easier for you specifically. Here are 10 factors to consider as you make this decision:

Factor 1: How Much Should Math Impact Your Overall Score?

It seems there are two types of people, those whose excel in math and those who don’t. Most people can tell you if math is their strong suit or not. This will be key in deciding which exam to take because it can drastically impact your overall percentile.

The ACT measures your math score equally with the other three sections. So it equals one quarter of your composite score. On the SAT, however, the math section equals half of the composite score as it is measured as only one of two separate sections in your overall composite score. Therefore, a lower math score might not necessarily bring your percentile down too far in the ACT if your score high on all the other sections. But a lower math score on the SAT will have a very large impact on where you rank.

Factor 2: Do You Need a Calculator?

While all of the math questions on the SAT and ACT are designed to be solvable without a calculator, they are certainly meant to challenge you, and both allow the use of a calculator if you need one. However, the SAT does contain a no-calculator sub-section within the math portion. For 55 minutes, you’ll be allowed to use a calculator to answer 38 questions, then you’ll have 25 minutes to answer 20 questions without a calculator. The ACT doesn’t have a portion like this and you’re allowed to use a calculator throughout the whole math portion.

Factor 3: Are You More Comfortable With Trig or Data Analysis Type Questions?

That’s right. Another math-based factor to consider as you’ll realize the math section of the ACT and SAT to be a very influential portion of your score. So another factor to consider is the type of questions you’ll face in each math section. The ACT focuses on a very broad spectrum of math including more trigonometry and geometry questions as well as logarithms and graphs while the SAT is more focused on algebra with some data analysis type questions mixed in.

Although we’ve seen most of the more challenging aspects in the math section to be with the SAT, one of the biggest challenges to consider with the ACT is the fact that it doesn’t include the formulas you’ll need like the SAT does. That means you’ll need to have all of the formulas you may think you’ll need memorized beforehand.

Factor 4: How Much Time Do You Need For Each Question?

Taking a break from focusing solely on the math portion of the exams, one factor to consider for the overall test is how much time you made need to answer each question. While some test-takers are good at narrowing down multiple-choice questions pretty quickly and not second-guessing, others may like to have longer to analyze the answers more thoroughly. If you fall into the latter category, you might consider taking the SAT since it offers more time per question than the ACT in each section with the math providing the largest difference at almost 30 seconds more per question.

Factor 5: How Strong is Your Science Knowledge?

If you like science, the ACT might be right for you since it’s the only one to have a specific section designated for science. While the SAT incorporates some scientific concepts throughout the other sections like reading and math, the ACT actually has 40 questions to test a broad scientific knowledge and understanding.

Factor 6: Are Associated Reading Questions Okay?

The reading sections of the two exams are also a little different and lean toward different strong suits. SAT reading section incorporates logical reasoning skills in sets of questions that build off of each other. So after reading the sample portion and continuing into the questions, the first question might be the “why” question regarding some fact you read. Then the subsequent question would be to pinpoint the section of the reading sample that supports your previous answer. If you prefer more straightforward reading questions, the ACT may be for you.

Factor 7: Do You Prefer Your Reading Questions in Chronological Order

Although the ACT reading questions might be a little straightforward than the SAT, they do jump around more which can throw some test-takers off. In the SAT, questions following a reading passage flow in perfect chronological order based on where they are found in the reading passage. Questions on the ACT are random.

Factor 8: Would You Test Better in Grammar or Vocabulary?

Each test offers an optional writing portion, which you’ll more than likely take as many schools will want to see it. It doesn’t factor into your overall score but there are some things you should keep in mind as there are key differences between the two. The ACT writing portion focuses more on grammar and sentence structure while the SAT tends to focus more on individual writing style and vocabulary knowledge.

Factor 9: Do You Want to Increase Your Odds On Multiple Choice Questions?

While both the SAT and ACT are multiple-choice exams that don’t penalize wrong answers, there is a slight advantage to taking the SAT if you want to increase your odds on questions you might need to guess on. Most of the sections on each test contain four answers per question, but the math portion of the ACT actually has five different answers. So if you think you might be guessing a lot in the math section, the SAT will slightly increase your odds of guessing right.

Factor 10: Is There A Specific Requirement You Must Meet?

Of course all of this research and in-depth study of the differences might be pointless if you have a specific requirement to meet based on your school or state. While the majority of schools will accept either test score, there might be a specific requirement or preferred exam. Also, there are several tests that incorporate one specific test as a requirement. Alabama, Colorado, Hawaii, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Wisconsin and Wyoming all use the ACT. Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Michigan and New Hampshire all use the SAT. These states usually incorporate a lot of preparation throughout high school specific to that specific exam so you might be better prepared to take the test used by your state.

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