While the prohibition of a calculator on some SAT math questions may leave you worried, rest assured that you don't need a calculator on this section. In fact, having one would probably just slow you down!
This guide will discuss the third section of the SAT, the Math with No Calculator section. Read on to learn about the types of questions you can expect to see, along with some tips for getting a high score. First, let’s go over the format of the SAT Math No Calculator section.
How Is the Math No Calculator Section Formatted?
Let’s start with the basics: how much time you have, and how the Math No Calculator section is structured. This section will always come third, after Reading and Writing and Language. It’s only 25-minutes long, making it the shortest section on the SAT. You’ll get a short break after you take it, during which you can take out your calculator to get ready for the next section, the Math with Calculator section.
In these 25 minutes, you’ll be asked to answer 20 questions. You'll have an average of one minute and fifteen seconds, or 75 seconds, per question. Fifteen of these questions will be multiple choice, each with four answer choices, and five will be grid-ins, also known as student-produced responses. You’ll fill in your answers to these five grid-ins on a special section of your answer sheet.
Here’s how the section breaks down exactly:
|Time||Number of Multiple Choice||Number of Grid-ins|
|25 minutes||15 (#1-15)||5 (#16-20)|
Since the No Calculator section is the shorter of the two math sections, it will only count for one-third of your total math score. Now let’s move beyond logistics and discuss the skills that will be tested on the SAT Math No Calculator section.
You don't need a calculator to answer these questions, just a pencil and paper!
What Skills Are Tested On the No Calculator Section?
According to College Board, the Math No Calculator section tests two major categories, Heart of Algebra and Passport to Advanced Math, along with problems that fall under Additional Topics.These categories focus on concepts such as solving linear equation, linear inequalities, functions, quadratic equations, graphs, geometry, and complex numbers, among others.
Unlike on the longer math section, you won’t find any Problem Solving and Data Analysis questions, the ones that ask you to interpret data from tables and scatterplots or calculate ratios, rates, and proportions. The chart below shows exactly how many questions you can expect to find in each of the three major skills areas:
|Content Categories||Number of questions||Percent of test|
|Heart of Algebra||8||40%|
|Passport to Advanced Math||9||45%|
Some questions may be multi-step and require you to combine two or more concepts to work toward a solution. To gain a sense of how the math section tests the above skills, you can find official SAT sample questions below. Let’s take a look at how this calculator-free section tests the above skill areas.
This amphibian romantic wears his Heart of Algebra on his sleeve.
How Does the No Calculator Section Test Your Skills?
The No Calculator section won’t ask you to do long, complex calculations out by hand. For the most part, this section seeks to test your reasoning and problem-solving. College Board wants to ensure that you understand fundamental math concepts and don’t need to rely on a calculator to reach a solution. There will still be some arithmetic - basic adding, subtracting, multiplying, or dividing by decimals - but the majority of the problems will focus more on reasoning than on figures.
Below are some official sample questions provided by the testmakers. You’ll find two questions that fall into the Heart of Algebra category, two in Passport to Advanced Math, and one in Additional Topics. Notice how, for the most part, a calculator wouldn’t actually be useful at all for reaching your answer.
Examples of No Calculator Section Questions
The questions below are borrowed from College Board’s collection of official SAT practice tests, a free resource that should definitely be part of your test prep. You should also check out Khan Academy's SAT resources, though it probably won't be a replacement for more thorough test prep.
#1: Heart of Algebra
This Heart of Algebra question asks you to solve for x in an algebraic equation.
To solve, you could go through the following steps:
- Multiply both sides by 3, so you're working with x - 1 = 3k
- Add 1 to both sides, leaving you with x = 3k + 1
- Then solve for x by substituting k with 3. Since x = 3k + 1, x = 3(3) + 1, or x = 10.
This Heart of Algebra example represents an easy level question. If you didn't solve for x, you could also plug the answer choices in and work backwards (ie, which value of x would equal 3). Either way you decide to solve it, this problem definitely doesn't require the use of a calculator.
#2: Heart of Algebra
This is another Heart of Algebra question of medium level difficulty. It tests your reasoning skills and understanding of an algebraic expression. You could plug in numbers to make the scenario more concrete, but the easiest way to solve this problem is by understanding how to represent rates with algebraic variables.
The problem asks about the total number of messages Armand and Tyrone sent.
- The total number of texts Armand sent is his rate (m texts/hour) multiplied by the number of hours (5). Your product for Armand's texts is 5m.
- The total number of texts Tyrone sent is his rate (p texts/hour) multiplied by the number of hours (4). Your product for Tyrone is 4p.
- To get a total, you would add these two products together, leaving you with 5m + 4p.
If you were unsure about your answer, you could plug in sample numbers for m and p to check your reasoning. The easiest way to solve this problem, though, is with a conceptual understanding of the relationship between rates and time and how to represent this relationship with a variable.
#3: Passport to Advanced Math
This sample question tests your ability to manipulate an algebraic equation.
The initial expression gives you m in terms of r, N, and P. The problem asks you to solve for P in terms of m, r, and N. To switch around the equation, you should multiply both sides by the reciprocal of the expression beside P. Basically, you can just flip the current expression, ending up with answer choice B.
#4: Passport to Advanced Math
The question below is the first example that requires arithmetic. While a calculator would be helpful here, the College Board wants to see that you can do addition, subtraction, division, multiplication long hand.
Since the problem asks when the price per pound of beef (b) was equal to the price per pound of chicken (c), you can solve it by setting b as equal to c, or 2.35 + 0.25x = 1.75 + 0.40x. Then you solve for x with these steps:
- To avoid negative numbers, subtract 1.75 from both sides and 0.25x from both sides, leaving you with 0.60 = .15x.
- Divide both sides by .15 to get x = 4.
- The question asks about the price per pound of beef when both meats were equal, so plug in x to solve for b. Your equation should look like this: b = 2.35 + 0.25(4).
- b = 2.35 + 0.25(4) = 2.35 + 1 = 3.35.
- The price per pound of beef when it was equal to the price per pound of chicken was $3.35.
#5: Additional Topics in Math
Finally, the following is an “Additional Topics” question that involves geometry (right triangles) and basic trigonometry. Here you need to demonstrate understanding of sin and cosine and how they relate to one another in a right triangle. Without knowing this relationship, you'd have a tough time answering this question.
The easiest way to solve this problem is to recall the complementary angle relationship of sine and cosine, sin(x°) = cos(90° − x°). Then you can immediately know, without having to do any calculations, that your answer is 4/5.
Answer: 4/5 or .8
As you can see above, the Math No Calculator questions ask you to demonstrate a deep understanding of mathematical concepts. So how can you study to ensure your understanding of these challenging questions? Read on for some study tips as you prepare for SAT Math.
Let's talk strategy.
How Can You Do Well On the Math No Calculator Section?
Any prep you do for the Math No Calculator section will help you on the Math with Calculator section of the SAT, so these study tips will help your overall preparation. The following study tips, though, are especially essential for the No Calculator section.
Tip 1: Study Key Concepts
As you saw in the example questions above, many questions won’t ask you to do any calculations with numbers. Instead, they require that you have a deep understanding of the underlying concepts and can apply operations to work towards a solution. In this way, some of the problems are more abstract and theoretical, rather than based on figures and equations with real numbers.
This shift, by the way, aligns more closely with the Common Core. Both the SAT and Common Core standards now present math with fewer topics presented more in depth. Some SAT critics have pointed out that this shift continues to benefit students who attend better-resourced schools whose teachers are well-versed in the Common Core. If your math classes teach curriculum that aligns with Common Core standards, then they should be teaching you key concepts in a way that will help you on the SAT Math No Calculator section.
Outside of school, you should also make time to study the key topics that will appear on SAT Math. Because of College Board’s recent commitment to transparency, it shares exactly what those concepts will be. Algebra is especially important, and you’ll want to ensure you have a firm grasp of topics like linear and nonlinear equations, quadratic equations, and functions.
Beyond the main topics shared by College Board, you should make sure your study materials break down each broad topic into its component subtopics. By covering each detail, you can fill in any gaps in knowledge. On this section, you can’t rely on a calculator to do any of the thinking for you. You need to show up with a strong understanding of the key concepts.
Tip 2: Practice Close Reading
Just as No Calculator problems emphasize your conceptual understanding over your ability to manipulate figures and carry out calculations, they also test your reading comprehension. You’ll have to be able to read a problem and figure out what steps it’s asking you to take.
Word problems, especially, can be relatively involved, sometimes containing more information than is necessary for you to work towards a solution. That means it’s up to you to figure out which details are relevant and which details are useless. Some of these problems, according to College Board, feature real-world scenarios, such as calculating gas mileage or converting from one country’s currency to another.
Of course, not all these real-world scenarios are part of everybody’s actual everyday experiences. Practice problems will help get you familiar with the types of scenarios that College Board considers to be real world. Critics have suggested that this emphasis on word problems, along with the above mentioned alignment with the Common Core, could disadvantage some test-takers, especially those who speak English as a second language. To prep for this section’s emphasis on reading comprehension, make sure to study with multi-step word problems.
FAQ: Can I use my abacus during the No Calculator section? Sadly, no, you'll have to rely on your own counting skills.
Tip 3: Brush Up On Your Arithmetic Skills
For the most part, I’ve stressed that the No Calculator section prioritizes a conceptual understanding over the ability to carry out calculations. There are still a handful of problems, though, that will require you to do arithmetic. Without a calculator, you’ll have to be able to write out these calculations in long form.
In example problem #4 above, for instance, you would have to subtract and divide using decimal points. While these are basic math skills, many students may have grown used to performing these simple calculations on a calculator. You’ll want to brush up on your ability to write these operations out by hand quickly, efficiently, and with an eye for accidental mistakes.
Tip 4: Write Out Your Work
If you’ve been in any math class, you’re probably familiar with the much repeated math teacher mantra: write out your work. Teachers don’t want you to seemingly pull an answer out of thin air; they want you to show, step by step, how you worked through a problem. Not only does this demonstrate your understanding, but it also helps you catch any mistakes along the way.
Just as you should write out any calculations you do, you should also write out the steps in other problems, whether you’re solving for x or simplifying a multi-variable expression. Many of the problems require multiple steps, so writing out your work will help you keep track of your thinking and avoid errors.
Tip 5: Answer Hundreds of Practice Problems
Answering practice problems should go hand in hand with reviewing key topics. Make sure you’re comfortable with the concepts and know when and how to apply them to realistic SAT problems. Taking timed practice tests will also help you develop your time management skills and ability to answer questions quickly and accurately.
So where can you find all these practice problems? One place, of course, is College Board. You can find automatically graded online practice questions, along with more than five free official practice tests that you can print out and download. You can also find problems of varying difficulty levels on Khan Academy, along with video explanations of the different concepts.
You might also use SAT Math prep books or try out PrepScholar’s SAT prep program. Finally, you could also use practice tests for the old SAT, as long as you make sure to adjust your focus for the redesigned test. (For instance, you’ll find fewer geometry problems but will need to add some basic trigonometry.)
After you answer questions and take timed tests, take the time to analyze your results. Figure out exactly why you got a question wrong and what you can do to fix your mistake for next time. If you lacked core knowledge, study that concepts. If you made careless errors, work on your strategies for time management. Walk yourself through the answer explanations step by step to figure out how you can improve.
By analyzing your results and using practice tests as valuable feedback for your approach to test prep, you can gear your math toward doing well on the SAT. As we draw to a close, let’s review the key features you need to know about the SAT Math No Calculator section.
FAQ: If I can't use my calculator or my abacus, can I at least count on my fingers and toes? Probably, but it doesn't seem like the most efficient use of time.
Key Facts About the SAT Math No Calculator Section
The Math No Calculator is the third section of the SAT. It’s 25 minutes and consists of 20 questions: 15 multiple choice and 5 grid-ins. These questions cover Heart of Algebra, Passport to Advanced Math, and Additional Topics.
Most questions draw on your conceptual reasoning skills. Calculations with equations and figures will be limited to basic arithmetic skills. As you prep, you should make sure to brush up on those arithmetic skills, along with your word problem comprehension. Most importantly, you should show up to the SAT with an in-depth conceptual understanding of algebra, geometry, and basic trigonometry.
Any prep you do for the Math No Calculator section will also be helpful for the Math with Calculator section. Above all, prioritize a strong grounding in the fundamental concepts that will appear on SAT math. As long as you do this, you won’t even miss your calculator as you work through the first SAT math section.
Do you find yourself rushing to answer all the questions on SAT Math? This guide is full of the best strategies to help you stop running out of time on SAT Math.
Looking for the best books to study for the SAT? This fully updated guide discusses the best books currently available for prep for SAT Math.
Are you a strong math student aiming for top scores? Check out our comprehensive guide for getting a perfect score on SAT Math, written by a full scorer.
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ACT vs SAT…an important choice and an epic battle that most high school students will have to take sides on.
Both the ACT and SAT are accepted by all U.S. colleges. Both the ACT and the SAT include core sections on Reading, Writing, and Math. Both tests include an optional essay, and neither penalizes for wrong answers. Both are taken by millions of students, and there is no longer the geographical divide there once was between test-takers on the coasts (mostly SAT) and test-takers in the middle of the country (mostly ACT).
So how do YOU decide between the ACT and the SAT?
ACT vs SAT: How I’ve Helped My Students Decide
When I did one-on-one ACT and SAT tutoring, one of my favorite games to play was “Are you an SAT student or an ACT student?” (Well, I played this game in my head anyway.) I asked students about their interests in school (literature, science, math) and outside of school (sports, dance, video games). I asked them about how they did in school and how they felt about standardized tests. I asked them about their strengths and weaknesses and their biggest worries about the college admissions process.
By the end of this initial conversation, I could usually determine with greater than 90% accuracy which test they would do better on. And this is without looking at any diagnostic test scores.
Of course, I looked at the scores too. If my students had PSAT scores, PreACT scores, or practice test scores, this often made the decision a lot more concrete.
But my point is: I could often make a really, really good guess just by sizing up who my students were as people. But this only came after years of experience helping high schoolers prep for the SAT and ACT.
If you’re a high schooler trying to decide if you should take the SAT or the ACT, or a parent trying to help your child choose between the tests, or a counselor looking to advise your many students, you might not have this level of insight.
That’s why we’ve compiled all of our best information here on the differences and similarities between the ACT and the new SAT that launched in March 2016.
Click the thumbnail to view our handy infographic comparing the ACT and SAT!
ACT vs SAT: Timing
The ACT takes 2 hours and 55 minutes to complete without the essay, and 3 hours and 35 minutes with the essay.
The SAT takes 3 hours to complete without the essay, and 3 hours and 50 minutes with the essay.
Here’s the full breakdown for each section:
|English (ACT); Writing and Language (SAT)||45 minutes|
|Essay (optional)||40 minutes|
Of course, this does not include time for filling out paperwork, instructions, or breaks. All in all, you’ll probably spend at least 4 to 5 hours in the testing center. So, bring your snacks! Check out our breakdowns for SAT Test Day and ACT Test Day for more details on what your morning is going to look like.
ACT vs SAT: Time Per Question
It’s also important to note that one of the major challenges of the ACT is how time pressured it is. The vast majority of students struggle to finish at least one of the ACT sections, and many struggle to finish several of the sections within the time limit. Of course, plenty of students run out of time on the SAT as well; in fact, many students and tutors have reported that the new SAT is much more difficult to finish on time than the old SAT. So it may be possible that this oft-noted distinction between the (old) SAT and the ACT is no longer as valid, but we’ll continue monitoring as more students take the test.
Still the fact remains that…
You’ll have less time per question on every section of the ACT than you will on the SAT.
Overall, across sections, you’ll have an average of 50 seconds per question on the ACT and 1 minute and 10 seconds per question on the new SAT.
Keep in mind though that the questions are different; SAT questions may take you longer to parse than ACT questions, so you may need that extra time.
ACT vs SAT: Overall Structure and Breakdown by Section
The ACT has 4 multiple choice sections plus an optional essay. The sections always appear in this order:
The SAT has 4 multiple choice sections plus an optional essay.
Now let’s talk about the similarities and differences between the SAT and ACT in each section:
ACT English vs SAT Writing
When you take a peek at the English section on the ACT and the Writing & Language section on the SAT, you’ll find that they look virtually identical. Not only that, they test many of the same concepts (although we do feel these concepts are tested in a bit more of a nuanced fashion on the new SAT than the ACT, with tricker answer choice phrasing).
Still, here are a couple differences you should be aware of:
- Reading Level: All of the passages on the ACT English section are at a relatively easy reading level (say, about 9th grade). The passages on the SAT Writing & Language section can vary in difficulty, however, from early high school to early college.
- Informational Graphic Questions: On the ACT, all of the questions are about the text. On the SAT, you’ll see a couple questions on tables and graphs connected to the text.
Check out our video on the differences between ACT English and SAT Writing for more details!
ACT Math vs SAT Math
Here’s what you need to know about the similarities and differences between ACT Math and SAT Math:
- Math Level: The new SAT has upped its game as far as math difficulty goes: you’ll see some questions on advanced math and trigonometry. However, as our SAT expert Chris Lele reported after taking the SAT in May, at least right now, the ACT includes more questions in the realm of Algebra II and Trigonometry. But for either test, don’t panic if you haven’t studied trig! All of the trig knowledge tested on either the SAT or ACT is at a very basic level. In fact, I’m fairly confident you could teach yourself what you need to know with our trig study guide for the new SAT and trig resources for the ACT (and for video lessons, go to Magoosh SAT or Magoosh ACT).
- Calculator Usage: This one’s pretty important! On the ACT math section, you can use a calculator on every single question (whew!). But as you may have noticed above, the SAT includes a 25 minute no-calculator section with 20 questions. The math here is meant to be easy enough to do by hand, but keep in mind you might want to be brushing up on your mental math skills. If you are a whiz with numbers who can eyeball math problems and do calculations in your head, you might be at an advantage on the SAT over many of your peers.
- Multiple Choice vs Grid-ins: The ACT Math test is all multiple choice, meaning you’ll always be able to have at least a 20% chance of getting the answer right, even if you have no idea what you are doing. The SAT Math test is 80% multiple choice and 20% grid-ins, meaning you have to fill in the blanks with your own answers on these ones.
Our video comparing the new SAT Math and ACT Math sections tells you more!
ACT Reading vs SAT Reading
You’ll likely find that the ACT Reading and SAT Reading sections look pretty similar, at least on the surface. Still, there are some important differences:
- Number of passages: There are four long passages (700-900ish words) to read on the ACT and five longish passages (500 to 750 words) on the SAT. Or rather, there are 4 discrete reading sections on the ACT and 5 on the SAT. Both tests include one set of paired passages for you to compare, but count these as a single passage.
- Passage complexity: The reading level of the passages on the ACT is pretty standard across the board (about a 10th to 11th grade level). On the SAT, you’ll find a range from 9th grade to early college.
There are further differences in question types between the SAT and ACT, including the SAT’s use of a special question type the College Board calls Command of Evidence. We have further articles breaking down the differences on our blog that you can check out, as well as this video!
ACT Science vs SAT ??
Well, it’s tricky to compare apples to…nothing. The Science section is unique to the ACT; there’s nothing like it on the SAT, or really on any other standardized test I know of other than those developed by the ACT organization.
Before you jump to conclusions about whether or not you are good at science and whether this means you should take or avoid the ACT, you really should know that there is very little actual science knowledge tested on the ACT Science section. Kind of bizarre, right? You’ll see a handful of questions that do require you to bring in outside knowledge, but most of the questions have to do with your ability to read tables and graphs, make assumptions about scientific situations, or evaluate scientific hypotheses. I suggest you take a look at our ACT Science lessons or the example ACT Science questions on the ACT website before making any decisions about your suitability for this section.
Although the SAT doesn’t have a discrete Science section, it’s worth noting that the new SAT places a much greater emphasis on interpreting tables and graphs across all of the sections. You might think of this as its response to the ACT Science test. Being able to interpret data will help you on both tests.
Here’s your complete guide to tackling the many graphs and tables questions on the ACT Science Test.
ACT Essay vs SAT Essay
Even though the ACT and the SAT are looking a lot more similar these days, one point of pretty significant departure is the optional essay (optional assuming the colleges you are applying to don’t require the essay).
On the ACT essay, you’ll be given three different perspectives on a debatable issue and be asked to evaluate them and present your own perspective. For those of you who excel at debate and/or coming up with supporting examples on the spot, you might be naturally suited for the ACT essay.
On the SAT essay, you’ll be given a 650-700 word passage to read (yeah, that is a decent amount of reading before you even get to the writing part). Then you’ll write an essay explaining how the author builds his or her argument in the passage. The key difference here is that the SAT doesn’t care at all about your own opinion or your own arguments; it just wants you to evaluate the arguments in the passage. This means that if you excel at analyzing readings in your English class, you might find the SAT essay to be a better fit for you.
Check out our in-depth post comparing the ACT vs SAT essays, plus our video, for more!
ACT vs SAT: Scores
ACT: The ACT uses what’s called a composite score to give students an overall ACT score. Your overall composite score ranges from 1 to 36 and is an average of your scores on each of the multiple choice sections. You’ll also receive your individual section scores, which range from 1 to 36 as well, but for most colleges, it’s the composite score that counts.
So, for example, let’s say you received a 25 on English, 32 on Math, 28 on Reading, and 24 on Science. You’re overall composite score would be (25+32+28+25)/4 = 27.5, rounded to the nearest whole number, which would be 28. (It’s icing on the cake when you get to benefit from the rounding up!)
SAT: The SAT is scored on a range between 400 and 1600. This is based on adding your Reading/Writing score from 200-800 and Math score from 200-800 together. Note that even though there are three main multiple choice sections to the SAT—Reading, Writing, and Math—Reading and Writing are combined into one score out of 800. This is different from the old SAT, on which students received a score out of 800 on each of the three sections, meaning the highest score on the old SAT was 2400.
ACT vs SAT: Conversion of Scores
We’ve made you an awesome chart that will allow you to easily convert your ACT scores to new SAT scores. To convert your ACT scores to old SAT scores (on the 600-2400 scale), we have a post where you can convert your ACT scores to new SAT scores or old SAT scores. Check it out!
Need to find your score quickly? Enter it into the search box!
|ACT Composite Score||New SAT Total (400-1600)|
ACT vs SAT: Test Dates
The SAT and ACT take turns on months (except in June, October, and December). Both tests are offered 7 times per year.
Here’s a handy chart to keep it straight:
*The January SAT was only offered through January 2017. From August 2017, an August SAT has been available.
**The July ACT will be available as of July 2018.
In some months, you could take the SAT and ACT on consecutive weekends, and there are some students that do that, but it’s not always wise. Back-to-back weekends in the test center? Studying for two different tests at the same time? Yikes.
In an ideal world, you’re just going to choose one or the other test to prep for (hey, that’s the whole point of this post!). If you DO decide you want to take both, it’s best if you can give yourself at least a month—and ideally more—in between to switch gears.
However, with the increased similarities between the ACT and the new SAT, you might find that you can get away with back-to-back tests if this fits best with your schedule. But again, I don’t think that’s the ideal scenario.
ACT vs SAT: Cost Comparison
This chart compares the general cost (and the hidden fees) of both exams:
|Test without essay||$46.00||$46.00|
|Test with essay||$62.50||$60.00|
|International testing (outside U.S. or Canada)||$47.50||$38-$53|
|Test date or center change||$26.00||$29.00|
|Additional score reports||$13.00 each||$12.00 each|
Students who can’t afford the ACT or SAT can work with their high schools to obtain a fee waiver, which will allow them to take the test for free (with or without the essay), although fee waivers generally don’t cover additional fees beyond that.
ACT vs SAT: Which is easier? Which is harder?
We know that these are questions that you would love a straightforward answer to, but really it’s going to depend on what you find to be easy or hard.
I know that’s not a very satisfying answer though, so here are a few guidelines:
The ACT might be easier for you than the SAT if:
- You are really fast at your work. You generally don’t have trouble running out of time on tests at school and you are a fast reader. The ACT, in many ways, is still a more straightforward test, provided you can finish it in time.
- You like science and are good at interpreting data and trends. Yes, I know I said above that you don’t need to know much science to do well on the ACT Science section. This is still true, but it doesn’t hurt to be interested in what you are reading. Students who may not be a fan of science, but are really good at seeing the trends in graphs and tables and being able to deduce the next step in a process are also likely to be successful at ACT Science.
- You are glued to your calculator in math class. The prospect of the no-calculator section and the grid-ins on the SAT might be a bit more intimidating for you.
The SAT might be easier for you than the ACT if:
- You’re not a fast reader, but you’re a good reader. You can understand readings pretty well when you take your time. While you may not be able to take all the time you’d like on the SAT, you will encounter more complex passages on the SAT vs the ACT. This combined with the slightly shorter passages on the SAT, and the slightly longer time period you have to answer questions, could make the SAT a better choice.
- You’re good at mental math. You’ll be able to breeze through the no-calculator section with confidence while other students sweat.
- You’re good at reading between the lines and finding traps. The SAT, while not as tricky as it was in the past, still has some tricks up its sleeve. And the better you are at standardized test games, the better you’ll be at the SAT.
Should You Take Both the ACT and SAT?
Generally speaking, we recommend against taking both the SAT and the ACT. You’re splitting your test prep efforts and condemning yourself to more Saturday mornings in a testing center, cutting down on your time for school, activities, and life.
Here are a couple of exceptions:
- You’re a REALLY strong test-taker eyeing the most competitive schools and feel pretty confident you can get a top score on both tests. Some top schools (aka a few of the Ivies) have indicated that they like to see both scores. It gives them more data to have confidence that you are strong across the board. But please don’t take this as a mandate. If you need to focus on studying full-force to get a top score on one test, put all your efforts there.
- You’ve started your testing early and decide you need to change tactics. Maybe you’ve hit a wall with your ACT scores and want to try the SAT. Or vice versa. If you do this, you want to make sure you have plenty of time to focus on one specific test in your prep. For example, if possible, take the ACT in February and the SAT in May so you have three solid months in between to switch gears. But with the increased similarities between the SAT and ACT, you may certainly find that you need less time in between.
What about what students are saying about the ACT vs SAT on College Confidential, Yahoo Answers, Quora, etc.?
There’s so much advice out there on the internet on ACT vs SAT, and so much of it is not good for you. A particular concern right now is outdated information about the SAT. The SAT changed drastically in early 2016, so anything written before this point that hasn’t been updated is not going to help you at all. And the situation is still developing as the first groups of students take the new SAT, so we may have more information soon, and we can’t rely on everything even the College Board said before the actual launch of the new SAT.
At Magoosh, we often check out what students are saying on College Confidential and Yahoo after each administration of the SAT or ACT (there’s usually a thread on College Confidential about each test with hundreds of comments). What always stands out is that students have such different (and opposite) reactions to the same test. For every student who says, “The Reading section was so hard!” there’s a student who says, “The Reading section was so easy!” You’ll likely come out of this comment jungle more confused than you were before. Find good authoritative sources on the SAT and ACT that you trust and follow their guidelines.
Need more help deciding if you are an ACT or an SAT student? Let us know in the comments!
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in May 2016 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.
About Kristin Fracchia
Kristin makes sure Magoosh's sites are full of awesome, free resources that can be found by students prepping for standardized tests. With a PhD from UC Irvine and degrees in Education and English, she’s been working in education since 2004 and has helped students prepare for standardized tests, as well as college and graduate school admissions, since 2007. She enjoys the agony and bliss of trail running, backpacking, hot yoga, and esoteric knowledge.
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