The ACT has a total of 215 questions while the SAT has 154 questions. When a test has more questions, like the ACT, a student has more room for error. That’s a good thing.
The SAT has two tests that are over one hour: a 65-minute reading test and 80-minute math test. The ACT tests are 60 minutes, 45 minutes, 35 minutes, and 35 minutes.
Shorter tests tend to be better for most students because it is easier to focus.
There are major differences in the math tests.
- The ACT allows a student to use a calculator the entire time, every question is multiple choice, and more complex formulas are included in the actual question where the formula is needed.
- The SAT list basic formulas on the first page.
- The SAT math test is divided into a no calculator portion and a calculator portion.
- The no calculator portion has 20 questions but only 15 of those are multiple choice. Students must produce an answer for the other five questions.
- The calculator portion has 38 questions with 30 of them being multiple choice and eight questions where students must produce an answer.
The SAT does not have a science test, the ACT does.
This a big deal, especially to colleges. Right now, there is a national effort to encourage students to go into STEM disciplines. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.
The ACT science test is very important to colleges and is one of the reasons the ACT is more popular than the SAT.
The ACT scoring is more balanced. The ACT composite is the average of the four test scores, so each subject has a 25% impact.
The SAT score is half math and the other half is a combination of Reading and Writing/Language.
The ACT is time-sensitive, the SAT is not. Therefore, preparing for the ACT will help a student with the SAT, but not necessarily the other way around because pacing is so critical to ACT success.