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The ACT vs. the New SAT: Which one is right for you? (Part Two)

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This week we’ll continue our summary of the differences between the ACT and the new SAT. Part one covered general considerations, ACT vs. SAT Reading, and ACT English vs. SAT Writing and Language. This part compares the math and essay sections of both exams. It also provides a brief summary of the ACT Science section, which has no SAT counterpart. Like part one, we won’t be going in depth with any one section of the ACT or SAT. Rather, we’ll be highlighting some fundamental differences to help you decide which exam is a better fit for you.

ACT Math vs. SAT Math

This is another area in which the SAT is now closer to the ACT. While both exams have always covered basic high school level mathematics, the new SAT Math section now includes some specific concepts that have historically appeared on only the ACT. One important distinction is calculator usage. The new SAT math section is split into two subsections: one where calculator use is permitted and one where it is not. The ACT allows students to use a calculator for the entire Math section.

ACT Writing vs. SAT Essay

Both the ACT Writing and the SAT Essay exams have recently seen revisions. Like ACT Writing, the SAT Essay is now optional. However, the similarities end there. The new SAT Essay is essentially a DBQ (document-based question). Students must read, analyze, and respond to a short article. While students are allowed to criticize how well an author makes the case for his or her position, they are not allowed to criticize the position itself.

The “new” ACT Writing exam requires students to choose and support a position on a particular issue. However, a student must also analyze three “perspectives,” both on their own merits and in relation to the student’s own position. In other words, the SAT Essay taxes analytical skills, while ACT Writing draws on both analytical and argumentative skills.

ACT Science

Unique to the ACT, the Science exam requires students to answer a series of multiple choice questions based on information presented in passages, charts, graphs, and tables. Despite its name, the science section doesn’t require any advanced scientific knowledge. Instead, this section draws upon the skills used in lab classes: reading, reasoning, and data interpretation. If you’ve had substantial laboratory experience during high school, you already possess many of the skills necessary to do well on this section.

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