How to Approach the SAT/ACT

How to Approach the SAT/ACT

The SAT and ACT are two different standardized tests used by college admissions offices in the United States to evaluate a student’s knowledge and logical thinking skills. When choosing which test is right for you, you must first understand the specifics of each one. While they both seek to test students across various academic subjects, the SAT and ACT differ in their formatting



The ACT exam is typically comprised of four sections — English, Math, Reading, and Science — in addition to an optional writing prompt; students are given a total of 2 hours and 55 minutes to complete these sections, and an extra 40 minutes for the optional essay. The English section has 75 multiple choice questions, with a main focus on grammatical and language skills. The Mathematics section is made up of 60 multiple choice questions, ranging from pre-algebra to trigonometry. The Reading section has 40 multiple choice questions which ask you to analyze four different reading passages. The Science section is made up of 40 multiple choice questions covering data representation and research summarization. The highest score one can obtain on the ACT is a 36, with each section being graded separately.

One of the most noticeable differences between the two tests is the fact that the SAT provides students with 43% more time per question than the ACT. The SAT is made up of three sections: Reading, Writing and Language, and Math. Students are given 3 hours to complete these sections, and an additional 50 minutes to complete the optional essay. The Reading portion is broken down into 52 passage-based questions, the Writing and Language portion is broken down into 44 passage-based questions, and the Math portion is broken down into 38 questions where calculators are allowed and 20 questions where calculators are not allowed. The highest score one can obtain on the SAT is a 1600, and the sections are graded independently.

The most useful tool to take advantage of when preparing for the ACT or SAT is practice tests, which can be found for free on the ACT website or College Board website. Once students take practice tests for each, they can get a general sense of which exam best aligns with their academic strengths and time-management skills. Further, these practice tests can showcase specific areas that a student may need to spend extra time studying on as they prepare for the ACT or SAT. While a student may be naturally better at English and Reading in comparison to Math or Science, they can train themselves to understand the most effective approaches to each section through continuous practice. An array of useful online resources exist to ensure that students do not feel ill-equipped to take these standardized tests.

One of the most important parts of the college admissions process is one’s ACT or SAT score, so it is beneficial to start familiarizing yourself with the material and format as soon as possible. Once you identify which test is best suited to your abilities, try challenging yourself to take a practice test once a week, going over your missed answers and developing a strategy that works the best for your unique learning style.

By Anna Marguleas


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