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ACT vs. SAT: How to Know Which is Right for You


Say hello to the SAT and ACT! Both are great choices, but deciding which one to take should be a strategic decision. After all, you’ll spend weeks learning strategies and doing practice drills right until test day. So how do you pick one?

Let’s cut to the chase: the best way to decide which test is right for you is to take a practice SAT and a practice ACT. By going through the test taking experience for both, you’ll be able to make an informed decision about which suits you more. What’s great about taking practice tests is that there’s no expectation for you to get a “good” score: you’re simply seeing how the tests are formatted, what types of questions are asked, and what the pacing is like.

In addition, here are a few smart questions to consider when deciding between the ACT and the SAT:

How much time do you want to spend reading?

One big difference between the two tests is that the ACT gives you 35 minutes to do the Reading section. On the SAT, you have 65 minutes. Some would rather get it done quickly, and thus gravitate towards the ACT. Others prefer to not be in such a time crunch, which is why they take the SAT.

It’s also important to consider when you do the Reading section. On the ACT, it’s the third section (out of four multiple choice sections). On the SAT, it’s the first section. Would you prefer to tackle it at the halfway point or tackle it right away?

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When it comes to math, do you prefer having a variety of question types, or do you want more algebra-based questions?

Another key difference between the ACT and the SAT is the Math section. On the ACT, the topics you’ll be tested on include pre-algebra, algebra, plane geometry, coordinate geometry, and trigonometry. On the SAT, the topics are called “Problem Solving & Data Analysis,” “Heart of Algebra,” “Passport to Advanced Math,” and “Additional Topics in Math.” It might seem hard to decode what these SAT math topics cover, but a reductive way to describe the SAT Math section is that it has more algebra and less geometry.

How do you feel about not having a calculator for a math section?

On the ACT, you can use a calculator for the whole math section. On the SAT, the Math section is split into two parts: non-calculator problems and calculator problems. Some dislike the idea of having to do math without a calculator. The problems on the SAT non-calculator Math section are designed to be done by hand, but if you prefer the security of having a calculator, the ACT Math section is completely calculator-friendly.

Would you rather have a definitive science section, or have science topics sprinkled throughout the entire test?

A big reason why many are intimidated by the ACT is the Science section. In reality, the ACT Science section is basically reading comprehension, but with graphs and tables. In contrast, the SAT weaves science throughout the entire test. For example, two of the SAT reading passages will be science-themed and contain charts. Don’t let the lack of a clear SAT “Science section” fool you—you’ll still have to deal with science.

After reviewing the above factors and taking a practice version of both tests, you will be better prepared to make an informed choice between the ACT or SAT.

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