Having received over 1,000 student responses to our 60 Second ACT vs. SAT Assessment, I have noticed that the majority of students (roughly 70%) end up favoring the SAT. Since this is most often the first question we’re asked by students and parents alike, here’s what we know about the difference between the two exams based on our experience, the skill sets of our students, and the test formats:
1. The questions following the reading passages tend to be in order on the SAT, whereas on the ACT that's often not the case. This is why we help students learn to focus on the main idea of each paragraph within the overall text – so that even if they find themselves having a difficult time with some of the details, they are still able to answer most of the questions fairly easily and in order. On the ACT, however, oftentimes they find themselves having to scan through the passage more or less at random – which lowers confidence and eats up much more of the already-limited time.
The five reading passages on the SAT average 600-800 words each, while the four reading passages average on the ACT average 800-1000. On both tests each passage is followed by 10-11 questions, which means students have 13 minutes per passage on the SAT compared to only 8.75 minutes per passage on the ACT - that's roughly 43% more time. *two passages on the SAT have 11 questions
Many of the comprehension questions on the SAT focus on recognizing the main idea of the passage or a particular paragraph. Students who become more proficient in quickly identifying and summarizing the thesis – the foundation piece of our test prep programs – tend to do much better on these types of questions compared to the oftentimes extraneous details tested on the ACT.
Though the grammar sections on the ACT and SAT are pretty much the same - College Board essentially 'stole' the ACT format – the rhetoric questions are generally worded much clearly on the SAT, and again the SAT gives students 33% more time relative to the ACT (48 vs 36 seconds per question).
The math sections on the SAT focus more on Algebra II/trigonometry and correlate more with school level math (as does the ACT); however, the ACT math tests a wider range of math concepts and leans much more toward geometry. About 15 percent of ACT questions involve using advanced mathematical concepts - on the SAT it’s much more about knowing them. This often makes it more of a challenge for students who don't excel in math, as the ACT feels more likely to throw out ‘curveballs’.
Averaged together, the non-calculator and calculator sections average about 45% more time than the ACT. ACT: 60 seconds (one minute) per question; SAT: 83 seconds per question (1 minute 13 seconds) per question.
The SAT does have a non-calculator math section, unlike the ACT where a calculator can be used throughout. However, there are many time-saving strategies we can teach students that are not dependent on a calculator, which tends to make this section much less challenging relative to the difficulty of the math on the ACT.
ACT math questions have 5 answer choices, while the SAT has 4. Having to deal with an additional choice also serves to make the math questions slightly harder – and again, eats up additional time on the clock.
Unlike the SAT, the ACT has a separate Science section. This is really not testing Science knowledge – it's about being able to read and interpret charts and graphs. Once students learn the strategies for the four types of Science passages, most find it not that challenging. The problem is many are drained by the time they get to this final section on the exam. Bottom line, the Science section is a major casualty of the 'fatigue factor'. (The SAT has 2-3 charts and graphs sprinkled through the reading and writing sections.)
CAVEAT: This is not to say that ALL students will do better on the SAT! Or that students who are on the fence should not give both exams legitimate consideration. We use the 60-Second Assessment as a first step, but there are many other factors – we offer a complimentary “Test Prep Strategy Session” to help determine which test is best for YOUR teen. Click on the button below to get started today!