Math: SAT vs ACT test

Written by Beth Cassie

We had the opportunity to attend a local luncheon with other Independent Educational Consultants last month where the guest speaker was Mark Weinfeld, a math educator with over 25 years of experience.  He discussed with us the key differences between the math section of the ACT and the SAT.  In a nutshell, if you are a really good math student in class, work fast, can memorize four pages of formulas, and hate being tricked – go for the ACT.  If, on the other hand, you are great at logic problems, like figuring out puzzles and hate the idea of studying and memorizing formulas, the SAT is probably better for you.

Here are the six key differences that Mark identified between the two tests:

  1. What is being tested – The SAT is more of a logical reasoning test using numbers than a math test.   The ACT is a traditional test of High School math skills.
  2. Level of content – SAT covers arithmetic, Algebra plus some Geometry and Algebra 2 concepts (lower level math).  The ACT covers content through pre-calculus (higher level math).
  3. Use of Formulas – Any formulas you might need are given to you for the SAT.  No formulas are provided on the ACT.
  4. Trickery – The SAT is full of tricks (remember, it is more of a reasoning test than a math test).  The ACT is a more straightforward test.
  5. Timing – 1 minute, 20 seconds for each question on the SAT.  1 min/question for the ACT.
  6. Guessing strategy – Penalty for wrong answers (1/4 point off) on SAT.  No penalty for wrong answers on ACT.

There are specific techniques to prepare for each of these tests and preparing for one test will not necessarily help you prep for the other.  Pick the test that plays to your strengths, prepare for it, and do the best that you can!



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