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Minh Nguyen

The ACT: Pros and Cons

You’re trying to figure out whether your skills are better suited for the ACT or SAT. However, you don’t want to spend hours looking at both tests to get a feel for the differences.


Photo by W.carter

Here you’ll find a quick guide to the pros and cons to the ACT. For our ultimate guide to ACT vs SAT, check out this link!

The ACT is More About Speed

On three out of four of the sections on the ACT, the number of questions outnumber the number of minutes you have to finish the section. This means that you’ll need to have the stamina and speed to race through everything. On the flip side, this also means that the ACT test makers have to be reasonable about the difficulty of each question.

In contrast, every section on the SAT has fewer questions than minutes allotted. Because you have more time per section to get through each question, you’ll have to jump through more hoops in order to get to the correct answer.


You Can Use a Calculator the Whole Time on the ACT

On the ACT, you are allowed to use your calculator for the entire duration of the math test. The SAT splits the math section into two parts: calculator, and non-calculator.

For some of you, that might not be a big deal. You might even be thinking that having a non-calculator section may be advantageous in terms of your final overall score. However, this will certainly affect the decisions of those who feel more comfortable doing math with a trusty calculator to help them.

Check out this post for a more in-depth look at the differences between the math section on the ACT vs. new SAT.

The ACT Essay and the SAT Essay

Aside from the ACT science section, this is arguably the biggest difference that has come out of the recent changes in the ACT and SAT. Depending on your strengths as a writer, the essay portion can make or break your final score.

If you are good at writing research papers, then the ACT essay is for you. If you are more comfortable with analyzing rhetoric, then go with the SAT.

Make sure to read this excellent guide in order to make an informed decision between the two.

Things to Keep in Mind

The biggest thing to avoid is to try splitting your study time to take both tests and submit the higher score on your college application. Students are usually better off focusing on one test and doing the best they can to get a high score on that one.

Focus on the other aspects of your application instead, such as your personal statement. That’ll be more worth your time than figuring out whether you should submit the SAT score versus the ACT score.

Improve your SAT or ACT score, guaranteed. Start your 1 Week Free Trial of Magoosh SAT Prep or your 1 Week Free Trial of Magoosh ACT Prep today!

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About Minh Nguyen

Minh's passion for helping students succeed grew during his time as a career counselor at the University of California, Irvine. Now, he's helping students all over the world by spilling SAT/ACT secrets through blog posts on Magoosh. When he's not busy tutoring or writing, he enjoys playing guitar, traveling, and talking about himself in third-person.

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