How to Know if the SAT is Right for You
January 18, 2020
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How to Know if the ACT is Right for You

Having trouble deciding whether the SAT or ACT will measure your skills better? Not to worry—with our handy, comprehensive comparison, you’ll have no trouble seeing the pros and cons of each. Below, a brief overview of the ACT will help you determine if this is the best test for you.

General: The ACT is 2 hours, 55 minutes without the essay, and 3 hours, 40 minutes with the essay. The test structure is as follows: English, Math, Reading, Science, Essay (Optional).

Differences From The SAT: At A Glance

  • English: 75 questions instead of 44
    • English is the first section, instead of Reading
  • Math: covers Probability & Statistics instead of Data Analysis
    • Calculator permitted throughout, whereas SAT forbids it on one section
  • Reading: 4 passages instead of 5
    • Less passages and less time than the SAT
  • Science: there is no corresponding section on the SAT
  • Optional Essay: asks for your point of view instead of analysis of a source text
  • Overall: 5 sections instead of 4, and scored on a scale of 1-30
    • 1 question is approximately 1 point

Section 1: English

  • 75 questions, 45 minutes
  • Tests grammar, punctuation, rhetoric, and sentence structure
  • About 0.60 of a minute per question

Section 2: Math

  • 60 questions, 60 minutes
    • Shorter than the SAT math section
  • Geometry, trigonometry, and algebra I and II

Section 3: Reading

  • 40 questions, 35 minutes
  • 4 passages: Prose Fiction, Social Studies, Humanities, Natural Sciences
  • 8.75 minutes per passage

Section 4: Science

  • 40 questions, 35 minutes
  • Science-based passages, combined with charts, graphs, and tables

Section 5: Optional Essay

  • 40 minutes to read, plan, and write
    • SAT: 50 minutes
  • 1 essay
  • Read a blurb about a topical issue, three opinions on it, and then formulate and provide your own opinion
    • SAT essay: forbids your opinion on the subject

The ACT might be the right choice if you:

1. Have strong science skills.

The SAT does not include a science section; the ACT does. If you’ve taken upper-level classes in science, this may be the right test.

2. Don’t have strong math skills.

While you won’t score highly on the ACT math section if your skills are very weak, if you’re the kind of person who feels more comfortable with a calculator in hand, this is the better test. The SAT forbids the use of a calculator in one math section, whereas the ACT permits it throughout.

3. Don’t have strong grammar skills.

The ACT English section is 75 questions long—a far cry from the SAT’s 44 questions! That means each wrong answer counts less. If you’re less comfortable with your knowledge of the technical aspects of writing, this is the right test.

4. Have strong reading skills.

This reading section is shorter and provides less time per passage than does the SAT. If you’re confident with your comprehension abilities, this will be a breeze.

5. Have experience formulating your own point of view in essay-writing, and are good at writing under pressure.

The ACT essay can be tricky because it requires you to provide your own opinion in response to a topical issue, respond to three perspectives on that issue, and come up with your own evidence to support your argument. On top of that, you only have 40 minutes for the whole thing—reading the prompt and the perspectives, planning, and writing. That’s ten minutes less than the SAT essay. If you enjoy this kind of challenge, and are adept at arguing your point, this is the essay for you.

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