I’ve recently taken both the SAT and the ACT. I, personally, was much more comfortable with the SAT and I kind of enjoyed it because I was able to do something that no one else could- relax.  I wouldn’t mind taking it again. In fact, I plan on retaking them both soon. I didn’t feel that either of them was hard (I get the scores back from the SAT on March 29th. EDIT: I got a 1670), however the time frame for the reading portion of the ACT really nipped me in the butt. I just can’t read fast enough to answer 40 questions in 35 minutes. Seeing how I’ve already experienced both of these very important tests, this article is about how I can help you do better.

The main difference between the SAT and the ACT is that the ACT has a science portion (which is pretty much just being able to interpret data), while the SAT does not. The SAT also has 7 sections for math and English. The ACT has one reading, English (grammar), math, and science portion. The ACT is curriculum-based, while the SAT is more about general reasoning and problem-solving skills. The ACT lasts 2 hours and 55 minutes (Plus the 30 minute optional writing test; Check the requirements for the college that you wish to apply to, some require the writing test). The SAT lasts 3 hours and 45 minutes.



  • 40 questions, 35 minutes
  • 10 points (each) in Social Studies, Humanities, Natural Sciences, & Prose Fiction


  • 75 questions, 45 minutes
  • 40 questions on punctuation, grammar & usage, and sentence structure
  • 35 questions on rhetorical skills (strategy, organization, & style)


  • 60 questions, 60 minutes
  • 24 questions in pre/elementary algebra
  • 18 questions in intermediate algebra/coordinate geometry
  • 18 questions in plane geometry/trigonometry (Doesn’t have enough trig to seriously damage your score, but you should still practice it)


  • 40 questions, 35 minutes
  • Data representations (Be able to read and interpret graphs and charts)
  • Research summaries
  • Conflicting viewpoints



  • Total of 78 questions within 75 minutes
  • 19 questions in sentence completion
  • 19 questions in analogies
  • 40 questions in critical reading (50% of the English test; more than 3/4 of the time is spent on reading passages & questions)
  • Sentence completion and analogy is based on humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, and human relations.
  • Read the questions first, then look for answers in the passage to save time. Passages contain 400-850 words.
  • More heavily based on vocabulary than the ACT


  • 60 questions, 75 minutes
  • Three sections divided by difficulty: 1/3 easy, 1/3 medium, 1/3 hard
  • Arithmetic
  • Geometry (30%)
  • Algebra 1 & 2
  • Logical reasoning
  • Probability & counting
  • Emphasis on applying concepts & interpreting data
  • 50 multiple choice questions, 10 grid-ins
  • No trigonometry
  • If you don’t know the original amount/percent, always assume that it is 100

Scoring for the SAT & ACT are different as well. In theory, you should never leave a question blank on the ACT because there is no penalty for wrong answers. However, on the SAT you should never guess unless you can eliminate at least 2 of the answer choices because for every question that you miss on the multiple choice questions, 1/4 of a point is deducted from your score. Points are not deducted for grid-in responses, therefore you should never leave a grid-in blank. If you don’t know the answer, simply put 0 (zero) because that is sometimes the answer. For grid-in responses, your answer can only have 4 characters (1234, 1.23, 1/23, etc) and the answer is never negative.

What to Bring on Test Day:

  1. Photo ID and your Admission Ticket
  2. 4 No. 2 pencils and a good eraser (mechanical pencils or pens are not allowed)
  3. A calculator with fresh batteries (For the SAT a graphing calculator is ok. No plug-in or keyboard calculators. Ti-89 is acceptable. For the ACT no advanced graphing calculators are allowed such as Ti-89 or Ti-92; No question on neither exam requires a calculator and they will generally slow you down. Only use them if you have to)
  4. Snacks. you will be testing for hours so make sure you eat a balanced breakfast, get a good night’s sleep, and bring lots of snacks to eat during breaks.
  5. Do NOT bring a  cell phone or other electronic device. Having an active cell phone can cancel your test scores!
  • Relax! The more you worry and stress, the worse you will do (See How to Reduce Test Anxiety). When I was taking the SAT I was listening to music and dancing before I got to the test center. I was so happy and so relaxed that there wasn’t any room for anxiety.
  • Read carefully & thoroughly to avoid careless mistakes
  • Answer the questions in order of difficulty. If you have to stop to think about it, move on and go back to it later.
  • Choose an ‘answer of the day’ for the Act in case you don’t know the answer at all. I normally choose A or B (I guess they’re like my lucky letters)
  • On the English sections, brevity is the key. The best way to write something is the shortest and correct way.
  • Don’t get caught in the specific details of the passages
  • Answer general questions before more detailed ones in reading

Unless you receive a very high score on the first attempt (The national average for the new SAT is 1500 out of 2400. For the ACT, it’s between 20 and 21 out of 36), it is strongly recommended that you retake the test(s) in the fall of your senior year. You will find that you will do much better than you did the first time. Also, don’t worry if you did better on certain sections on one test date than you did on the other because colleges will often choose the best scores that work for you. You can also choose which scores to send to colleges on, but I suggest sending them all.


About Sierra

I'm an accounting major at Texas State University with a passion for all things international. I'm going to learn Russian, Portuguese, Italian, and possibly German one day. I've been speaking Spanish for 8 years and my dream is to one day travel across Latin America. DREAM Act 2015!

Posted on March 22, 2012, in School/College and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

What do you think? I'd love to hear your views so please leave a reply =)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: