SAT & ACT Tests

Both tests cover a specific set of concepts for both mathematics, reading and writing. There is very little difference in theoretical principles between the two tests. In other words, both tests expect you to know many of the same concepts. Mathematics sections on both tests cover: arithmetic, algebra, geometry and algebra II (ACT also includes trigonometry). Test-takers are able to identify each type of question that is addressed because of the fact that there are a set number of concepts included. This important skill is developed in test preparation, and can also be applied to the English components as well. The ACT English & Reading tests and the SAT Reading & Writing sections test a combination of usage/mechanics and rhetorical skills. This means that test-takers can expect that questions address sentence structure or syntax, punctuation, grammar and usage, as well as organization, writing style and strategy. Learning how to recognize the type of each question is the most important skill, both when identifying strengths and weaknesses while studying and navigating the test.

SAT   |   ACT


 

SAT

Content:
The SAT has 10 sections: 3 mathematics, 3 writing (multiple-choice and one essay), 3 reading and 1 experimental section which is not indicated. It is used for the test-makers and it does not count, but since you will never know which one it is, you should treat all sections as if they count. The essay is always the first section of the test and all other sections are in random order.

Test Length:
The length of the SAT is 3 hours and 45 minutes. Students can apply for accommodations in regards to time. If granted, test-takers usually get time-and-a-half or double-time. There are also many other accommodations for the SAT that students can be eligible for (see the Accommodations section).

Section Length:
The Mathematics sections have 20, 18 and 16 questions (the 18 question section has 9 multiple-choice questions and 9 grid-ins); Critical Reading sections have 24, 24 and 19 multiple-choice questions; and Writing sections have 35 and 14 multiple-choice questions in addition to the essay section.

Incorrect Answers:
Every wrong answer counts as 1/4 of a point off of your raw score, which go towards calculating your complete score. The Mathematics grid-in section is the one exception, as there is no penalty for wrong answers. So aside from this section, it is worth omitting answers on questions that you are really unsure about.

Content Differences:
The SAT requires an essay at the beginning of the test. The essay prompts require the student to answer an abstract question by choosing a position and defending it with examples. A quality response must have a clear thesis with well developed ideas, strong evidence as supporting information. It must be well organized, use diverse vocabulary, appropriate grammar and punctuation. This all matches the structure of the 5-paragraph academic essay that is taught in high school. Essays can be 4 paragraphs as well, especially if the student is pressed for time. The final difference is that questions in SAT sections increase in difficulty.

Question Types:
Although the content of the questions are similar in both tests, SAT questions tend to be trickier as they sometimes use complex wording, or there seems to be no good answer. Answer choices are also often close in value or are created to match an answer that would be reached after a common mistake. Strategy often plays an important role in answering SAT questions quickly. The SAT also places more emphasis on Vocabulary.

Scoring:
The SAT scores range from 600-2400, which is a composite of the 3 subject scores (200-800). The essay is scored from 0-12, based on the evaluations by two trained readers.

 

ACT

Content:
The ACT has four sections: English, mathematics, reading and science. The test always ends with an optional essay, which is a good way to boost your score, unless writing is a real weak point. It is also a good idea to write the essay because the SAT requires it and since the tests are considered interchangeable, they are better compared with the essay score.

Test Length:
The ACT is 3 hours and 25 minutes. As mentioned above, Students can apply for accommodations in regards to time. If granted, test-takers usually get time-and-a-half or double-time. There are also many other accommodations for the ACT that students can be eligible for (see the Accommodations section).

Section Length:
The English section has 75 questions, the Mathematics section is 60 questions, and the Reading and Science Tests each have 40 questions. If you decide to write the essay, the prompt is always at the very end of the test. You will have thirty-minutes to plan and write.

Incorrect Answers:
One advantage of the ACT is that only correct answers are counted towards your score. This means that all questions should be answered, even if a student guesses. If time permits, it is always best to try to eliminate some answer choices before guessing.

Content Differences:
There are several differences in the content of the ACT when compared to the SAT. The Science Test is unique to the ACT. It tests basic science knowledge, problem solving, evaluation, analysis and interpretation. The ACT Mathematics Test includes trigonometry in addition to the topics that are shared with the SAT. Last, the ACT has an essay question that is optional. The prompts are questions related to school in some way. Answers are evaluated in a very similar way to the SAT essay. The last difference is that the questions are random in terms of difficulty.

Question Types:
ACT questions are fairly straight forward. They test-taker is evaluated more in terms of academic achievement and less regarding reasoning and verbal abilities, as in the SAT. It is not only easier to understand the wording of ACT test questions, but for students who struggle with a particular subject, the ACT can seem forgiving. Since the ACT is an average of the four sections, many people believe it is a more accurate assessment.

Scoring:
The ACT is scored 1-36, which is an average of the 4 test sections. The optional essay is scored 0-12
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