ACT vs SAT: The Amazing Race


ACT is to SAT as Wedges is to Fries

In our continuing ACT vs SAT series (if you’ve not been following you might want to click this link and check out the others), we break down the difference in pacing on the two tests. We’ll help you make sense of pacing and timing on the SAT versus the ACT. You’ve probably already read or heard that the ACT is a faster test than the SAT, and we’re here to give that a little more context and help you figure out what that means to you.

 

Timing

When people say “The ACT is a faster test” what they really mean is that the ACT overall allots less time per question.  This means that it generally feels more like you are rushing headlong down a hill while taking the test. Let’s check that out a bit more numerically. Below is a breakdown of the time per question for each section. We’ve lumped all multiple choice questions for the SAT together in one block to make the comparison easier. Here’s what it looks like:

Reading Math Writing/English

ACT (seconds per question)

52

60

36

SAT(seconds per question)

63

78

43

How much Faster is the ACT?

19%

30%

19%

 

As you can see, the SAT gives quite a bit more time per question than the ACT does. This is probably even more drastic than it appears in Reading because on the SAT there are Sentence Completion questions (which take very little time) and Short Passages to go with the Long Reading passages, while on the ACT there are only long passages for all questions. In the Writing section, it’s a similar situation. ACT English questions generally have more words to read than do SAT Writing questions. If you’re a student who tends to work slowly but accurately, the SAT would probably be a better test for you. If you’re a quick confident student, then you should definitely give the ACT strong consideration.

 

Endurance

Another factor that will impact your SAT vs ACT test-taking experience is the endurance factor. The ACT has fewer sections, but each one is longer than any individual SAT section. If you have trouble concentrating for extended periods of time, you might prefer the SAT since its sections are a maximum of 25 minutes. Also, if you prefer variety, the SAT is probably for you, since it alternates back and forth between topics and you are not likely to be required to sit for an hour looking at the same kinds of questions.

ACT Structure

The ACT is a very rigid and predictable test. Its sections will always be in the same order.

# Questions Time

English

75

45 minutes

Math

60

60 minutes

–break–

10 minutes

Reading

40

35 minutes

Science

40

35 minutes

break–

5 minutes

Essay (optional)

1

30 minutes

 

SAT Structure

SAT sections are not only shorter than the ACT, but they are also in a less consistent order. In each grey area they will switch the order from one test to the next. So while on the example below the first section is math, this will not always be the case. For example, Section 2 could be a 35 question Writing section. The only predictable things about SAT section order is that the Essay will be first and the 10-minute Writing section will be last.

# Questions Time

Essay

1

25 minutes

Math

20

25 minutes

Critical Reading

24

25 minutes

–break–

10 minutes

Critical Reading

24

25 minutes

Writing

35

25 minutes

Math

18

25 minutes

break–

5 minutes

Math

16

20 minutes

Critical Reading

19

20 minutes

Writing

14

10 minutes

 

A student who is more comfortable with a predictable test would probably prefer the ACT. You should also see that the ACT will require you to focus more on the same topic for longer and thus might be harder to concentrate on.

Hopefully this helps you make this important choice. If you have questions, we’d love to hear from you, so just send an email to support at bellcurves.com and we’ll get right back to you. You can also click here and sign up for one of our free workshops and learn more about preparing for the ACT and SAT.

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