The Difference Between SAT and ACT Math
Sep 06, 2022Table of Contents
 Structure and Score
 Time
 Topics and Question Types
 SAT Math Topics
 ACT Math Topics
 Conclusion
Structure and Score
Two obvious differences between SAT and ACT math is that the SAT has two math sections, a calculator and a no calculator section, while the ACT has one and the SAT has free response questions while all the questions on the ACT are multiple choice. These differences are important. Looking at this since both tests have 4 sections, you may think that 50% of your SAT score is from math and only 25% of your ACT score is based on math. Don’t forget that the Science section on the ACT is reading charts and graphs, a math skill. You will want to look at other differences between SAT and ACT math before you make your decision which test is right for you.
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Time
Another apparent difference between SAT and ACT math is time. The ACT has 60 questions and allows 60 minutes. Pretty easy math there, one minute per question. The SAT has 38 questions on its Math Calculator section and allows 55 minutes, one minute 26 seconds per question. On the No Calculator section there are 20 questions to be completed in 25 minutes, 1 minute 15 seconds per question. Don’t base your decision on time allotted alone. There is a reason the SAT allows more time per question and it is NOT to make the test easier.
Topics and Question Types
The SAT tests fewer concepts but requires students to understand them in depth. The ACT tests a much wider range of concepts but the questions are much more straightforward.
SAT Math Topics
 linear equations and inequalities (solving, graphing, interpreting)
 exponential and quadratic equations (solving, graphing, interpreting)
 systems of equations (solving, number of solutions, word problems)
 radicals and rational exponents (solving, operations)
 center, spread and shape of graphs (data analysis)
 scatter plots
ACT Math Topics

Geometry
 area of triangles, special right triangles, Pythagorean Theorem, isosceles, equilateral, similar, external angles)
 circles, area and circumference, sectors, angles and arcs, tangent, chords, radius and diameter
 quadrilaterals, area and perimeter, diagonals, internal angles
 polygons, interior angles, area of embedded shapes
 ellipses

Statistics and Probability
 probability
 percent change
 patterns and sequences

Functions
 solving, graphing compositions

Algebra 1 and 2
 linear equations, solving, graphing, slope intercept form, slope
 parallel lines, perpendicular lines, midpoint, distance
 exponential decay and growth
 systems of equations
 range and domain
 matrices
 unit circle
 logarithms
 imaginary and complex numbers
 combinations and permutations

Number and Quantity
 adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing fractions
 number properties
 absolute value
 scientific notation

PreAlgebra
 mean, median and mode
 volume and surface area of 3 D shapes
 area and perimeter of shapes
 ratios and inequalities
 percentages
As you can see a substantial difference between SAT and ACT math is that the SAT has very little geometry, between 5 and 10 questions out of 58 total questions (10  15%). The ACT is approximately 30% geometry questions. SAT also provides basic geometric formulas on the first page of the test. The ACT occasionally provides information in the question.
Another important difference between SAT and ACT math is that the SAT tests concepts as well as calculations. Students will be asked the significance of a particular value or variable in an equation. The ACT is much more like questions on a school math test. Here is the information, now solve the problem.
Example SAT Math problem
The graph shown models the monthly marketing revenue, in millions of dollars, for a particular company from June 2009 to October 2010. According to the model, which of the following is closest to the company’s monthly revenue, in millions of dollars, for June 2009?
 8.5
 22.5
 62
 100
Example ACT Math Problems
Given functions f(x) = 5x + 1 and g(x) = x^{2}  2 what is the value of f(g(3))?
 198
 54
 39
 36
 194
Conclusion
The difference between the SAT and ACT math sections are the greater than any other section and can dramatically impact a student’s score. It is important to familiarize yourself with those differences when deciding which test is best for you. Here are some questions you may want to ask yourself while deciding
 Am I good at remembering facts and formulas? (ACT)
 Do I work quickly and accurately? (ACT)
 Do I understand mathematical concepts as well as operations? (SAT)
 Am I good at Geometry? (ACT)
 Do word problems intimidate me? (ACT)
 Am I good at graphing? (SAT)
 Do I depend on my calculator? (ACT)
I would also recommend taking the math portion of each test. It will take a total of 2 hours and 30 minutes, a wise time investment for such an important test.
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