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High school students start their university admission preparation by evaluating competitive exams such as SAT, ACT, SAT subject tests and AP. The SAT and ACT typically cover the same Math topics. Both SAT and ACT scores are used for college admissions and score based scholarship.

Exam Structure (Math Section)

Time 80 mins 60 mins
Number of Questions 58 questions 60 questions

Here are the five major differences:

1. Formulae
2. No Calculator Math Subsection
3. Question Categories
4. Number of Answer Options
5. Student response/Grid-In Math Questions

Difference #1: Formulae

The math segment for the SAT is more challenging than the ACT. One of the benefits of SAT is that few formulae are given in the Question booklet. The same can be said about ACT.

SAT Formulae for the reference:

Difference #2: No Calculator Math Subsection

The SAT contain two sections in Math. No Calculator subsection consist of 20 questions, the maximum time for this section is 25 minutes. In contrast, the With Calculator subsection is 55 minutes long and consists of 38 questions. In ACT you can use the calculator for the entire Math section. If you are not comfortable in solving math quickly without a calculator, you should choose ACT as you will perform better on ACT Math compared to SAT Math. On the other hand, if you are good in your mathematical skills and can do calculations fast without a calculator, then SAT is for you.

Difference #3: Question Categories

Algebra is given higher weightage in both ACT and SAT. However there are some miscellaneous topics which are not covered in SAT exam and vice versa.

The ACT focus on geometry is (35-45%) compared to geometry in SAT is only 10%. In addition, trigonometry accounts for about 7% in the ACT but less than 5% in the SAT.

If you’re skills are sharper with algebra and data analysis, you’ll probably do well at the SAT. But if you’re good in trigonometry and geometry, the ACT is a better option.

Difference #4: Number of Answer Options

Answer options provided in both the tests varies. Although in both SAT and ACT Math sections have multiple choice questions, ACT Math gives you five viable solution picks (A-E or F-K) for every question, whereas SAT Math offers you only four (A-D).

If you want to guess on certain Math questions, beware the SAT offers a very slight advantage over the ACT, with a 5 percentage better opportunity of having a question correct.

Difference #5: Student response/Grid-In Math Questions

If you are very good at multiple choice questions, specifically when it comes to math, you should opt for ACT. The SAT, though mostly multiple choice, contains student-produced response questions, or grid-ins, which are math questions for which you must fill in your own answer. In other words, you’ll have no answer choices from which to choose on these questions!

Grid-ins account for 22% of SAT Math, or 13 total questions across the No Calculator (5 grid-ins) and Calculator (8 grid-ins) subsections. By contrast, ACT Math only has multiple-choice questions.

Lastly if you are not comfortable with math questions that don’t provide you any answer alternatives, the ACT is the superior choice.

What next…….

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Blog Writer (Vishal Kshirsagar, Quant Trainer @ AURA)