What are the Major Differences between the SAT and ACT English Sections and Which Should You Take?

When deciding whether to take the SAT or ACT it is important to know how the exams differ. On the surface the SAT and ACT English sections may seem similar. Both exams have a reading section and an English grammar section (“Writing and Language” on the SAT). The former focuses on reading comprehension whereas the latter tests grammar and writing skills. But beyond this the SAT and ACT differ in many ways.

How do the ACT English and SAT Writing and Language sections differ?

Both the ACT and SAT evaluate students on their grammatical knowledge and their ability to identify effective and coherent writing. The major difference between these two sections is timing. On the ACT students are more pressed for time. The ACT English section has 75 questions to be answered in 45 minutes. On the other hand, the SAT counterpart has 44 questions in 35 minutes.

However, this does not mean that the SAT is easier. SAT questions tend to be more complex and require more critical thinking. When choosing between the exams, you need to consider whether you can answer a series of straightforward questions rapidly, or if you can answer a smaller set of more complicated questions in a longer period of time.

How do the ACT and SAT Reading sections differ?

Just like in the grammar sections, the ACT Reading requires students to answer more questions per minute than the SAT. Once again, while the SAT has more time, the questions tend to require more critical thinking than the ACT questions.

But the SAT/ACT differences don’t stop there. The SAT Reading also requires students to answer questions based off of charts/tables. While the ACT Reading section does not generally require this, it will be tested on the ACT Science section. The ACT Science section is essentially another reading section that only includes science related passages.

The last major difference between the SAT and ACT Reading sections has to do with “linked questions.” On the SAT, two consecutive questions may be linked together. The most common example of this asks students to choose the quote that most clearly supports the answer of the previous question. This feature is unique to the SAT Reading section and is not found in its ACT counterpart.

So how can I prepare for either the SAT or ACT?

Choosing which exam to take depends on your personal characteristics and how well each exam structure conforms to your test-taking skills. To help determine which exam is best for you, it is highly recommended that you hire a private tutor. Private tutors have the training and experience to identify your test-taking strengths and weaknesses. They can then help you match them to either the SAT or ACT. Private tutors can also help you overcome your weaknesses and build on your strengths.