THE SAT & THE ACT


TEST AND TIMING STRUCTURE OF THE SAT & ACT



THE SAT

THE ACT

Subject

Questions

Minutes

Subject

Questions

Minutes

Reading

52

65

English

75

45

Writing

44

35

Math

60

60

Math (No-Calc)

20

25

Reading

40

35

Math (Calc)

38

55

Science

40

35

Essay

1 Topic

50

Essay

1 Topic

40


Who might do better on which test:


The SAT

The ACT

Students who are slower and more methodical, have a good grasp of reading comprehension nuance, but may have just memorized and then forgotten many high school math concepts Students who can work quickly and accurately even under tight time limits, prefer straightforward questions with clear-cut answers, and have retained many high school math concepts and formulas


How the tests are similar:


There is no penalty for wrong answers, so students should always guess.


The SAT Writing and ACT English are both multiple-choice grammar sections, so similar that we haven't included a side-by-side comparison. They include questions about nuts-and-bolts grammar and also about writing style and the context of sentences. On both tests, the essay is reported as a separate score and does not affect the SAT Reading / Writing score or the ACT English or Composite score. Within the structure of the test, the essay is optional, but many colleges require it.  SIGN UP FOR THE ACT AND SAT WITH WRITING.

Three times a year, both tests offer the opportunity to get a copy of the questions and answers back: the SAT Question and Answer Service is offered in October, January, and May, and the ACT’s Test Information Release is offered in December, April, and June. SIGN UP FOR THE ACT TIR (TEST INFORMATION RELEASE) OR THE SAT Q & A IF OFFERED ON YOUR TEST DATE.


How the tests are different:


SAT Timing

ACT Timing

70 seconds per question. Having more time tempts students to overthink the questions.

50 seconds per question. Having less time tempts students to rush or take shortcuts.



SAT Reading

ACT Reading

The passages have more nuance, especially historical passages. Students need get past abstract principles, identify outside references, and decode sentences with unfamiliar vocabulary or unusual structure. Reading includes simple questions about graphs and charts. Overthinking is the primary pitfall. The questions and passages are very straightforward. But students must quickly find the right place in the passage to answer the questions. It's easy rush and make careless errors.


SAT Essay

ACT Essay

Students must read a long passage and analyze how the author uses persuasive strategies (e.g. humor, irony, statistics, diction) to make her point. It is not an agree/disagree essay that asks students to give an opinion on an issue. In an agree/disagree format, students must formulate their own opinion on an issue and discuss how that relates to three perspectives provided.


SAT Math

ACT math

The math is primarily focused on algebra and word problems. Many questions involve tables or graphs and “real world” concepts like percent. There is relatively little Precalculus or geometry. Students who have finished Algebra 2 / Math 2  will have seen 95% of the concepts.


Some formulas are provided.
One third of the questions are “no-calculator.” Students who are heavily calculator-dependent or work very slowly may struggle with this. All standard TI calculators are allowed on other problems.

The range of math is broad, from simple numerical calculations up to trigonometry and the unit circle. Many problems are straightforward if students remember concepts from school. Students who have finished only Algebra 2 / Math 2  will have seen 85% of the concepts.


No formulas are provided.  


On all the questions, students are allowed to use any TI-83 or TI-84 calculator. The TI-nspire is allowed but not the TI-nspire CAS.


The ACT also has a Science section that has no counterpart on the SAT. However, it doesn’t test science knowledge but rather facility and speed in interpreting graphs and charts. The format is similar to that of the reading comprehension, but instead of paragraphs, the passages consist of a set of experiments on related subjects.


SAT Scoring

ACT Scoring

Two main scores - Reading (including writing) and Math - scored on a scale of 200 - 800. Scores are typically added and reported as a total. The essay has its own separate score with three components, each scored on a scale of 1 -4. The essay score does not affect the Reading score. Almost all colleges will superscore, recomputing a new total using the best Reading and Math scores, even those from other test dates. Five main scores - English, Reading, Math, and Science - scored on a scale of 1 - 36. The Composite Score is a rounded average of the English, Reading, Math, and Science scores.
The essay has its own separate score with four components, each scored on a scale of 1 - 6. The essay score does not affect the Composite Score. Only some colleges will superscore, recomputinga new Composite score using the best subject scores from different dates. Information on whether a college will or will not superscore the ACT is usually available its admission website or by email from the admissions office.

For more information, click here to read our FAQ's about the ACT and here for our FAQ's about the SAT & PSAT.