One of the most common questions from students trying to decide between the SAT and the ACT is about how their math sections compare. It would be nice if one was clearly easier, but the truth is that their differences can make one test a great fit for one student and a terrible fit for another. Here’s how to find out which test is best for you.


1. The ACT Math Section Has Brutal Pacing

The ACT Math Section strikes a pretty brutal place, giving you sixty minutes to solve sixty questions. The SAT gives you a little more time per question, though the SAT does plan for you to use that time. The SAT gives you twenty-five minutes for twenty questions on the no-calculator section and fifty-five minutes for thirty-eight questions on the calculator section. Now, you’re not going to spend the same amount of time on every question, but this does mean that while on the ACT you’d have to average one question a minute, the SAT gives you a little more time. That time comes in handy, especially on the harder calculator section.

If pacing is one of your weak points, it might be a point in favor of the SAT. However, remember that speed on these tests mostly depend on how at ease you are with the material.


2. The ACT Math Section Has Shallower, More Specific Questions

Fortunately, with the shorter time limit, the ACT also asks questions that don’t take as much deep thinking as the SAT questions do. The difference is slight, but the ACT relies much more on the width of your knowledge rather than how deeply you can apply them. You might need to know exactly what a domain is or when you can multiply matrices. An ACT question will usually take a key piece of math knowledge, and one or two steps. Meanwhile, an SAT question will probably take more steps, but you’ll have more of a chance of figuring out what you’re missing.

If you have a broad mastery of math, but struggle applying it to word problems, the ACT might be a better fit for you.


3. The SAT Math Section Covers Fewer Topics

For the depth of thought that the SAT questions require, most of the questions are foundational math; Algebra I word problems, linear equations, and systems of equations are the three most common categories of questions on the SAT. Over 50% of the SAT test is basic math, while the ACT covers a wider variety of subjects.

If your math skills need some work, the SAT might be a better fit, as you’ll have to achieve mastery over less subjects.


4. On the SAT, the Math Section Is Half of Your Score

One last thing to consider is that the math section makes up a bigger portion of your score on the SAT. Your SAT score is evenly split between the verbal and math sections, but on the ACT, there’s also a science section. For the most part, the ACT Science Section boils down to science comprehension and graph reading. On the ACT, your math skills make up a little less of your score.

If your reading is weak and your math is strong, the SAT could be the better choice. If your reading is very strong, but your math is weak, the ACT might offer you a couple more points.



We hope that makes choosing between the SAT and ACT a little easier! If you want more SAT and ACT prep advice sure to join our mailing list for a free 27-item checklist and 30-day free SAT email course.

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