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SAT vs. ACT: The 4 Main Differences


One of the most frequently asked questions from juniors in high school and their families is whether to prepare for the SAT or the ACT. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer! The optimal path depends on the student’s strengths, weaknesses, and personal preferences. 

If you’d like to discuss the specifics of your situation and what might work best, please contact us and speak with a director today!

Decades ago, the SAT and ACT were mostly regional: students on the coasts took the SAT, and those in the middle of the country took the ACT. Now, though, students all over the country often take both tests. Colleges accept both the SAT and ACT, so it makes sense for students to try both tests and see which one yields a higher score.

Without further ado, here are the four main ways in which the two exams diverge: 

  • The SAT emphasizes complex problem-solving and critical thinking, while the ACT is more straightforward. Often, students who enjoy solving puzzles and reasoning through complex situations will prefer the style of the SAT. The ACT is better for students who appreciate straightforward questions, both in math and reading comprehension.
  • The ACT has a science section, and the SAT does not. That said, the ACT science most closely resembles a reading comprehension test with charts and graphs. It’s not an easy section by any means, but you don’t need outside science knowledge to get a good score.
  • Most students feel time pressure on the ACT, especially on the reading comprehension and science sections.  Both sections have 40 questions to complete in 35 minutes. Timing practice is essential to doing well on the ACT: it’s a fast-paced test.
  • The ACT math section covers more trigonometry than the SAT math section does. ACT math questions (especially the harder ones) will use basic trig concepts like SOH-CAH-TOA. Make sure you understand this concept before taking the ACT.

For all the differences between the SAT and ACT, most students end up scoring similarly on the exams when they take diagnostic tests. That said, some students do significantly better on one test, which is why we recommend that students who are looking to maximize their standardized testing profile take both tests. 

You can read up on our efficient, 1-on-1 SAT/ACT hybrid preparation here!

We’d be happy to schedule an SAT/ACT diagnostic test and help you analyze your scores―just get in touch with one of our directors by sending an email info@ajtutoring.com or by giving us a call at (650) 331-3251!

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