Three Differences Between the ACT and the SAT

Published on Tuesday, March 19th, 2019 by

ACT Chalk Talk #15


Are some of your students weighing taking the SAT instead of the ACT? Here are three important differences between the two tests…

Math Emphasis

On the SAT, math makes up half of your score. On the ACT, it’s only a fourth of your score. In other words, math is twice as important on the SAT! Students who are strong in math should strongly consider the SAT; students who are strong in ELA should not ignore the ACT, even if their state tests everyone on the SAT.

Science Emphasis

The ACT has an entire science reasoning section. The SAT includes some science reasoning questions in each section, but this is trivial compared to the weight that ACT gives science. Students who have a strong academic foundation in science will do well to showcase their strengths using the ACT.

Time Limits in Reading

On the ACT, students are given 35 minutes to read and respond to four passages—less than 9 minutes per passage. On the SAT, students have 65 minutes to respond to five passages, or 13 minutes per passage. You can feel the difference when you take the tests. Students generally feel rushed on the ACT and run out of time before they have fully considered the passages and the questions. On the SAT, however, students have more time to comprehend what they are reading and carefully consider the questions. If your students are constantly struggling to stay on pace in reading, the SAT might be a better fit. However, if your students can develop time management skills, they might end up ahead of the curve on the ACT compared to students with similar reading levels.

When in Doubt

If you’re not sure whether a student should take the ACT or SAT, it helps to keep in mind that the best advice for most students is for them to take both. Students can decide what test they submit to colleges, and you never know what test will do a better job of showcasing your students’ academic talents until they actually take the tests and get their scores back. ACT and SAT scores can massively influence your students’ college entrance experience, so it’s worth it for them to spend one extra Saturday morning to take both exams.