The SAT vs The ACT

If you want to apply to a US based, or even a global elite university, you need to give one of the ACT or the SAT. Both tests are extremely popular right now. In 2018, 2.1 million people sat for the SAT while 1.9 million sat for the ACT. All colleges accept both tests. This begs the question: which test is best suited for you? Which test plays to your strengths? Which one of these can you get a better percentile in? Can writing one of these lead to better college application for you?

The format of the ACT:

The ACT is a 3 hour 35 minute exam, including the optional 40 minute essay component. It includes the following sections in the given order:

The SAT vs The ACT
  1. English – 45 minutes, 75 questions

  2. Math – 60 minutes, 60 questions

  3. Reading – 35 minutes. 40 questions

  4. Science – 35 minutes, 40 questions

  5. Optional Writing – 40 minutes, 1 essay questio

The paper is graded on a composite score of 1-36, with the essay being separately graded. The total score is simply the average of your score on the four sections, each of which is also graded from 1-36. For both the SAT and ACT tests, the essay does not count towards your final grade and serves only as an additional data point.

The format of the SAT:

The SAT is a 3 hour 50 minute exam, including an optional 50 minute essay component. Like the ACT, sections are given in a predetermined order:

  1. Reading – 65 minutes, 52 questions

  2. Writing and Language – 35 minutes, 44 questions

  3. Math (No Calculator) – 25 minutes, 20 questions

  4. Math (Calculator) – 55 minutes, 28 questions

  5. Optional Essay – 50 minutes, 1 essay question

The paper is graded from 400-1600, and is designed such that the mean score lies around 1000. Your total score on the SAT is simply the sum of your EBRW (Evidence-based Reading and Writing Score) and the Math score, each of which is graded from 200-800 with the mean lying around 500. The essay is graded separately on a three-score system on a scale of 1-8. This essay does not count to your final grade, but can help you in your applications if your college requires it.

SAT Essay vs ACT Essay

This is an optional component for both papers, but it is where both exams differ the most widely. The ACT essay is fairly straightforward: you have writing prompt and three perspectives on it. You need to analyse and develop arguments for your own perspectives, which you will also analyse with respect to some of the other perspectives. You get 40 minutes to do this. The SAT essay is a completely different ballgame – you have writing prompt and an author’s perspective on it. You then need to write an essay analysing how this author’s builds his/her argument. You do not give your own opinion on the subject – you dissect the opinion of the author with evidence for the same.

What suits you better? This is easy to answer. If you can come up easy will supporting reasoning and examples, can organise your thoughts and develop a valid, detailed and coherent opinion on something, the ACT essay is the best for you. If you think you can read through passages better, and reason things properly with correct supporting examples from that passage to back up your position, then you should definitely prefer the SAT essay.

SAT vs ACT Science

The SAT has no science section. It is made to gauge mental ability, while a science section would make the paper more of a knowledge-testing examination. However, it does include graphs, charts and other visual media to check a student’s scientific aptitude. It also includes passages from science in its reading and writing passages, as well as by putting word problems from scientific concepts in Mathematics.

The ACT Science section is essentially like those “science-based Math” questions in the SAT. The language used is scientific, but there are always graphs, charts or other data provided to help you understand the concept and solve the question. You might get intimidated by the technical wording of questions in this section, but it does not mean they cannot be solved. Most importantly, all the questions can usually be solved without outside knowledge, as the aim of the ACT Science section is to test your ability to comprehend material instead of checking on their knowledge.

However, the ACT does not provide formulae on the paper, while the SAT does provide some basic formulae for the math section. This means you still need to remember things like the area and volume of a cylinder or a cone.

Therefore, if you feel comfortable with basic scientific principles, you should go for the ACT, while if they confuse you, you should try for the SAT.

SAT Math vs ACT Math

Mathematics accounts for 50% of the SAT score, while it accounts for only 25% of your ACT score. However, science does have some application of mathematics, so a good grasp over mathematics can help you over there as well. However, all questions in the ACT allow you to use a calculator. The SAT instead has a no calculator section as well.

The ACT does test a few topics that the SAT doesn’t, such as graphs of trigonometric functions and matrices. However, both papers mostly ask algebra questions, with smaller proportions of other topics like trigonometry and geometry.

The ACT asks you to solve 60 questions in 60 minutes. They would be more straight-forward, and test more concepts like trigonometry, geometry and algebra. The SAT has 20 questions in the no calculator section (25 minutes) and 38 in the calculator allowed section (55 minutes). These questions check your reasoning ability, and the ability to draw inferences from the given data. Another point worth mentioning here is that the SAT has a few student-filled responses on their mathematics sections. These are grid-ins that you have to fill in yourself. The ACT has multiple choice questions all the way.

The ACT Math section would be better for you if:

1. You feel that you are weak at mathematics

2. You prefer more straightforward questions and can handle topics like trigonometric functions and their graphs.

The SAT Math section is better for you if:

1. You prefer reasoning questions

2. You need slightly more time per question

3. You are good at math and feel it can push your score up

SAT Reading vs ACT Reading

The reading sections of both tests try to gauge the student’s ability to find answers from the passage using the relevant evidences. However, the manner in which they do so differs in a lot of ways.

The ACT has four passages, while the SAT has five. The SAT also has evidence and assertion type questions – a format completely missing from the ACT. The SAT always has questions in chronological order. Most questions also mention which line they are referring too. This means you always have an idea about where you should look to get the correct answer. This does not happen on the ACT. Questions are in random order for each passage, and you should know where the evidence might be to get the answer.

The SAT also has infographics in some of these passages, and questions may be framed on them.

The ACT keeps most of its infographics in the science section.

The SAT can be chosen if chronological questions would benefit you. However, they are more reasoning-based than the ACT. You can take the ACT if you want more straightforward questions.

SAT Writing vs ACT Writing

The biggest difference between the SAT and the ACT is that Evidence-and-Assertion questions are asked only on the former. Also, answers might be trickier on the SAT, as their questions focus on the writing and the infographics related to them. The two papers do not differ much in this section, but the ACT might spend slightly more effort in checking your grammar and basic English skills. In a way, the EBRW section on the SAT is aligned very well to the ACT, but is more nuanced.

Final words

If your state has made it mandatory for you to take one of them, then you should choose that one. You save on fees, and your school teachers know the test better.

Choose the SAT for its emphasis on Maths and reasoning skills. If you feel that you can find out evidences to justify your line of thought, then you are suited to the SAT. The ACT is a more straightforward exam, which you can take if you get confused by tricky wording. The ACT is also the better choice if you feel that you can build your own arguments properly, as seen in its essay portion.

If you have any more queries regarding the same, or how to prepare for the same, you should consider joining one of Masterclass Space’s integrated learning plans or mock test series. Masterclass Space has dedicated counselors who can help you choose which paper to take, the targets you should be setting, and can help you with setting up a study plan to achieve your targets. Not only that, Masterclass Space also has the top professors (selected from top universities) who can teach you and help with doubts in one-on-one sessions, and specially designed course materials that will reduce your dependence on inefficient books.