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SAT vs. ACT: What’s the difference?

SAT vs. ACT: What’s the difference?


Written by: Bethany Rawlinson, NCHS '17


SAT vs ACT Feb. 16, 2016 | Academically Prepared | The ACT and the SAT, college entrance exams, contain many similarities and differences. If attending a college that accepts both tests equally, a student should choose the exam that best fits their individual needs. Although the redesigned SAT contains fewer differences, variations still continue between the exams.


While both the ACT and the SAT include an optional essay, some differences remain between the rest of the content. The SAT includes two math sections, leaving students without calculator access during one of them. Including a science section, the ACT requires the ability to analyze and make conclusions based on scientific data.


The new SAT reading section plans to present five passages with fifty-two questions compared to the ACT’s four passages and forty questions. In this case, the ACT may  seem the better choice, as the workload noticeable differs. However, students that regularly struggle with time management may prefer the SAT because of the more accessible time lengths per question.


Although College Board purposefully designed the SAT math section, it still varies largely from the ACT’s. The new SAT math primarily tests knowledge of algebra, but geometry and trigonometry still apply to approximately one-third of the ACT math questions. While those who struggle in math might find this change appealing, the SAT math now includes a no-calculator section, presenting a challenge for many students.


Scoring between the two tests also adds an area of difference. The SAT presents a combined scored for reading and writing on a scale of 200-800 and a separate score for math from 200-800. The student then finds the sum of these numbers to create his or her composite score. Comparatively, the ACT averages the scores from each of the four sections to calculate a total score between 1 and 36.


One of the most difficult aspects of the SAT, penalization for incorrect answers, no longer applies to the new SAT. This negates one of the most fearful differences between the ACT and SAT.


The ACT and SAT both have their individual merits and disadvantages. For this reason, suggestions push students to try both tests before choosing one to further pursue.


(Source: Eagle Times Bulletin)