Some Thoughts on Finding the Right Fit

Mother and daughter looking at test booklet at the kitchen table.

For 10th graders looking to get started with test prep this summer, a big question is which test to take—the SAT or ACT? Colleges have no preference for one test over the other, so the choice comes down to which is the best fit for you.

Taking a practice SAT and a practice ACT will help you decide. You’ll also want to think about the math skills required for each test, as well as the pacing. Some students will naturally find themselves preferring one of the tests, finding that it complements their thinking and working style better than the other. 

While the tests cover much of the same content, there are differences, especially in how they handle science, math, and pacing. 


The ACT has a distinct “science” section, which many students find to be the most challenging. The final section of the test, the science portion has questions about data tables, graphs, charts, and descriptions of experiments. Basic knowledge of science concepts is required. There’s no special science section on the SAT. Instead, science content and data interpretation questions are woven throughout all sections, including reading, writing, and math.


The ACT tests a very broad range of math topics, with an increasing number of multi-step problems, all at a blistering pace. Calculators are allowed throughout. The SAT has two math sections, one with calculator and one without. There are some multi-step problems that demand a strong grasp of basic math topics. Both the calculator and no-calculator sections include non-multiple-choice questions where students write in their answers.


A big difference many students feel right away is the pace. On the ACT, often the questions are more straightforward, but you have a lot less time to answer them. The SAT questions can be slightly harder or more abstract, but you have much more time per question.

For a more detailed breakdown of the differences between the tests, including a list of math topics covered on each, see The Zinc Guide to College Entrance Exams.

One last note: you do NOT need to take both tests. They’re so similar in content that you may feel equally prepared for both, or you may decide, after working on one for a while, that you want to switch to the other (that’s fine!). But in terms of taking an official test, most students will want to pick one test to work on and stick with it.

Ready to try a practice test? Give us a call at 212-924-3040 or email We’ll help you get set up with a diagnostic SAT and ACT and schedule a free consultation to go over the results and help you get started on your test prep plan.