The SAT and the ACT are the two main exams your child will need to take. The tests are more similar than before since the SAT was redesigned in 2016, but there are some differences you should know about to help decide which is best for your student to take. Some take both tests, while others choose to take only one. Here’s what you need to know:
Time Per Question
One of the major differences between the SAT and ACT is the time allowed to answer each question. Overall, across all sections, testers have 50 seconds per question on the ACT and 1 minute and 10 seconds per question on the SAT. One of the challenges of the ACT is it is more time pressured and students struggle to finish sections. Though the SAT gives more time per question, the questions often take longer to think through. Neither test penalizes you for wrong answers.
Overall Test Structure
Both the SAT and ACT have 4 multiple choice sections and an optional essay. The SAT testing order is: reading, writing and language, math (no calculator), math (calculator), and essay. The ACT order is: English, math, reading, science reasoning, and essay. The science segment requires interpretation of graphs and charts and includes questions about the scientific method.
ACT English vs. SAT Writing and Language Sections
All of the passages on the ACT English section are at a relatively easy reading level, about 9th grade. In contrast, the passages on the SAT writing and language section can vary in difficulty, from early high school to early college. On the ACT, all of the questions are directly related to the text, but on the SAT, you’ll see a few informational graphic questions about tables and graphs connected to the text.
ACT vs. SAT Math Sections
Both tests cover: mathematics, algebra I & II, geometry, and trigonometry. The SAT throws in some data analysis as well. A calculator is allowed for every math problem on the ACT, however the SAT includes a 25 minute no-calculator section with 20 questions. The ACT math section is all multiple choice, and the SAT is 80% multiple choice and 20% grid-in which means you have to fill in your answers.
ACT vs. SAT Reading Sections
The ACT has 4 long reading passages (700-900 words), and the SAT has 5 shorter reading passages (500-750 words). Both have a set of paired passages to compare. The SAT reading passages are more complex and use a special question type called “command of evidence.”
Now that you know the similarities and differences between the SAT and ACT, which test is better for your child? You may already know based on your child’s education or abilities. Is he better at critical thinking or remembering everything he’s learned? Just for fun, your child can take a critical thinking test to see how good he is at creative problem solving.
Kaplan has created a sample of both tests that your child can take to determine which one better measures his strengths. The test includes four sections of SAT questions and three sections of ACT questions.
Most students wait until their 11th grade year to begin testing; however, it can be beneficial to begin in 10th grade. Getting a “baseline” early can help pinpoint weak areas, enabling your child to focus on those areas when prepping for the next test.
Read on to learn more about preparing for college.