Whether you are an interested parent or prospective student, there have been many changes to the SAT and ACT tests, so it can be difficult to keep track of it all. As the ACT and SAT Director for Oxford Tutoring, I want to break it down the differences between the ACT and SAT math sections to help you determine which test is right for you. Without further delay, let’s begin!
The ACT has 60 questions but the source of these questions comes from more areas of math. Here is a chart for the ACT:
The SAT has 58 questions and more than half of it is focused on algebra-based concepts. Here is a chart of what percentage of each math subject can be found on the SAT.
The ACT has one big section with 60 questions and 60 minutes. That means, to get it all done, on average, you only have 1 minute per question. This is quite a bit less than what you have on the SAT.
The SAT is divided into two math sections. The first section requires you to complete 20 questions in 25 minutes, and the second section contains 38 questions to be finished in 55 minutes. This gives you 1 minute and 15 seconds per question for the first section, and 1 minute and 30 seconds per question for the second section.
Order of Difficulty
The ACT always has the first 20 questions as easy, the next 20 are medium, and the last 20 are considered difficult. Their questions are a lot more direct, and will look more similar to math questions seen in school.
The SAT, on the other hand, somewhat follows a pattern of difficulty with questions in the beginning generally, but not always, being easier than the questions at the end. The majority of the questions on the SAT require strong reading and analysis skills, and then once you have figured out what the question is asking, then you can proceed to solve the problem.
Although the difficulty does not directly affect the scoring, it does help people plan on how much time to spend on a question.
For the ACT, you will be able to use your calculator for the entire math section. So there will be some questions that require use of a calculator, but it is useful to remember that not every question will need it.
One of the reasons the SAT has two math sections is that the first one is a non-calculator section and the second one allows calculator utilization. So, strong arithmetic and mental math skills are very helpful with this section since you cannot check your answers with a calculator. It also requires you to manipulate formulas to make the mental math easier.
The ACT will always have 5 multiple choice options to choose from when answering.
The SAT has either 4 multiple choice options or free response where the student must write on the answer.
The SAT also has few formulas given in the beginning of each math section, whereas the ACT does not provide any formulas.
There is no guessing penalty for either test.
Overall, students who are good problem solvers usually prefer the SAT compared to the ACT. For them, it is easier to quickly solve the problem and it is less strain of a strain than the ACT.
An ideal candidate for the SAT will have covered math through Algebra 2, and likes riddles, or games like Sudoku.
Students who prefer more common math problems and have a diverse math background prefer the ACT because the questions are easier to process, and require more of the math skills than analytical skills.
An ideal candidate for the ACT will have covered math through Pre-calculus, and can recall formulas from previous math classes.
Want to make sure you find the test that is right for you? Take a ACT or SAT diagnostic test at Oxford Tutoring. (949) 681-0388.
Meet the author: David Lord is the SAT and ACT Director and Math and Science Instructor at Oxford Tutoring Center in Orange County, California. He has helped hundreds of students achieve the SAT and ACT test scores they want and accepted into their desired college. He reaches his students through challenging them and asking questions to make sure they are absorbing the material they are being taught.