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December 23, 2019
How to Know if the ACT is Right for You
January 18, 2020

How to Know if the SAT 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 SAT will help you determine if this is the best test for you.

General: The SAT is 3 hours without the essay, and 3 hours, 50 minutes with the essay. The test structure is as follows: Reading, Writing & Language, Math, Essay (Optional).

Differences From The ACT: At A Glance

  • Reading: 5 passages instead of 4
    • Reading is the first section, instead of grammar
  • Writing & Language: 44 questions, 35 minutes
    • ACT is 75 questions, 45 minutes
  • Science: No science section
  • Math: covers Data Analysis instead of Probability & Statistics
    • Some Math questions don’t permit the use of a calculator
  • Optional Essay: takes 50 minutes, and analyzes comprehension of a source text
    • ACT Essay takes 40 minutes, and analyzes your own opinion in response to a topical issue
  • Overall: Scored on a scale of 400-1600
    • 1 question is approximately 10 points

Section 1: Reading

  • 65 minutes, 52 questions
  • 5 passages: Fiction, Social Science, Natural Science, History, Paired Passages
    • Fiction is always first. The order of the rest varies.
    • The topic of the paired passages varies between Social Science, Natural Science, and History.
    • There can be 2 of Social Science, Natural Science, or History.
  • 13 minutes per passage
    • ACT: 8.75 minutes per passage

Section 2: Writing and Language

  • 35 minutes, 44 questions
  • Tests grammar, words in context, and vocabulary
  • About 0.80 of a minute per question

Section 3: Math

  • 80 minutes, 58 questions
    • one 20-question No Calculator section
    • one 38-question Calculator Permitted section
    • 25 minutes for No Calculator, 55 minutes for Calculator Permitted
  • Geometry, trigonometry, and algebra I and II

Section 4: Optional Essay

  • 50 minutes to read, plan, and write
    • ACT: 40 minutes
  • 1 essay
  • Read an article and explain how the author builds an argument; cannot give your own opinion on the matter
    • ACT essay: provide your own point of view about a subject

The SAT might be the right choice if you:

1. Have strong math skills.

If you don’t always need a calculator, and you want more time to solve problems, you’ll do better on the SAT, as one section is calculator-optional.

2. Don’t have strong science skills.

The SAT does not include a Science section, unlike the ACT.

3. Have strong grammar skills.

Although the Writing and Language section on the SAT is much shorter than the ACT, this means that on the SAT, each wrong question counts more. As a result, if you’re confident in your knowledge of grammar, you’re better off on the SAT. On the ACT, there is more leeway.

4. Don’t have strong reading skills.

If the Reading section isn’t your favorite, the SAT might be better, as it gives you one more passage and more minutes per passage to solve questions. That means more room for wrong answers that don’t affect your score as significantly, and more time to figure out the passage.

5. Are comfortable with evidence-based essay writing derived from a source text, and know the sort of rhetorical terminology that’s found in AP English and AP Language classes.

Unlike the ACT, the SAT forbids you to provide your own opinion in the optional essay portion. You’ll be given an article and asked to identify how the author built their argument. The SAT wants to see you identify specific rhetorical devices, such as logos, tone, and diction. These terms are commonly covered in advanced English classes. If you have practice writing this type of essay, this may be the better evaluation of your skills.

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