Math SAT vs. Math ACT


Many students consider the SAT and the ACT. Some take one or the other, some take both (some take both more than once). Hopefully the information in the table below will help you decide which exam is best for you. Of course, your decision should be made with the entire examination in mind, not just the math sections. You should discuss the decision with your parents and guidance counselor.

Although the content of the tests is similar, with math from middle school through pre-calculus, the ACT contains more Geometry. The SAT gives you more time per problem but has more multi-step problems than the ACT and the SAT has a no calculator section. Many students find the ACT questions to be more straightforward, but the speed of the test is a challenge. Perhaps the best way to decide is to try practice tests for each and see how you do.

Another key difference is in score reporting. For the SAT, you can choose to send all of your SAT scores for all tests taken or the scores for a particular test date (the latter is called Score Choice). If you choose to send SAT scores for multiple tests, most colleges will consider your superscore (your best reading and best math across all tests). For the ACT you can choose to send scores for a particular test date or multiple test dates. There are some colleges that will superscore the ACT, but most will consider the ACT with the best overall average (called the composite score).

Quite a few colleges are test optional, meaning that they do not require standardized test scores. However if they do well on a standardized test, most students will send scores anyway.

Range of math needed
Middle school through pre-calculus. Less Geometry.
Slightly wider (logarithms and matrices are included).

No calculator section with 15 multiple choice and 5 grid-ins.

Calculator section with 30 multiple choice and 8 grid-ins.

One math section with 60 multiple choice problems and calculator allowed.

No calculator section takes 25 minutes.

Calculator section takes 55 minutes.

One math section that takes 60 minutes.
Time per question

No calculator section: 1.25 mins per question

Calculator section: 1.45 mins per question

1.0 mins per question
Formulas supplied Some None, but formulas may be given in problems
Diagrams Drawn to scale unless indicated otherwise Not drawn to scale
Guessing penalty No No
Calculator allowed Yes Not the TI-89 or TI-Nspire with CAS