The Difference Between the SAT Whole Test and ACT ScienceSep 26, 2022
Table of Contents
- Structure and Score
- Topics and Question Types
Structure and Score
The most important thing! The ACT Science test does not require you to be Einstein. In fact, 90 - 95% of this section is reading charts, tables and graphs. Yes, there will be a few basic science knowledge questions, typically 3 or 4 per test. You can score a 30 without answering ANY of these questions correctly. For you overachievers, I will be covering the specific knowledge that you need in a different post.
Both the SAT and the ACT test reading charts, tables and graphs. The ACT conveniently puts them ALL in one section. The SAT scatters them throughout the test, including the Writing and Language section. Because the SAT spreads the graphics throughout the test, some of the questions will be related to humanities and history, not just science.
It is hard to directly compare the scoring of the ACT Science to the SAT. The best source of this information is comparing the cross test scores on the SAT to the Science section score on the ACT. In reviewing the tests for this post I discovered an amazing fact. The cross test scores make up 49% of the questions on the SAT. The Science Test makes up 19% of the questions on the ACT. So many students shy away from the ACT because of the Science section when in fact, the skills it tests are actually more heavily tested on the SAT!
The ACT Science section is 40 questions to be completed in 35 minutes. We have already discussed that you are given more time per question on the SAT. Since the questions are spread throughout the test I can’t tell you exactly how much time you have per question.
Topics and Question Types
Again, since the ACT lumps all of these questions in the Science section, the topic is science: Biology, Chemistry and Physics. Remember these topics are the basis for the questions, but you are reading charts, graphs, tables, and evaluating processes logically. You don’t have to understand the concepts being presented (in fact you don’t want to waste you time trying to understand the passage!) but they can be intimidating because of the terminology.
You will have one or two graphics related to humanities or social studies on the SAT Reading section and one or two graphics on the Writing and Language section of the test. The skills used for interpreting the graphics are similar to the ACT, but the SAT asks bigger picture questions, such as identifying a trend or relating changes between two categories of data. Both tests contain confusing graphics: multiple lines, detailed models and non traditional graphs. It is important to read the key, identify the scale and trends in the data.
The ACT uses the yes, yes, no, no answer structure frequently in the Science section. First students are asked to determine if the material in the graphic supports a position, yes or no, and then what details validate that support.
Do the results of Experiment 2 indicate that each sample of pulp mixture contained only starch and sugars?
- Yes, because for any given day of testing, the sum of the mass of starch in the sample and the mass of sugars in the sample was equal to 100 g.
- Yes, because for any given day of testing, the sum of the mass of starch in the sample and the mass of sugars in the sample was not equal to 100 g.
- No, because for any given day of testing, the sum of the mass of starch in the sample and the mass of sugars in the sample was equal to 100 g.
- No, because for any given day of testing, the sum of the mass of starch in the sample and the mass of sugars in the sample was not equal to 100 g.
The SAT also asks questions about whether the data in a graphic supports a position but each of the answers is different. This means you have more positions to evaluate on the SAT.
Which statement is best supported by the information provided in figure 1?
- A) The organic yield as a percentage of conventional yield is greater for vegetables than for fruits.
- B) The organic yield as a percentage of conventional yield is similar for cereals and all crops.
- C) The reported number of observations for each crop type exceeds 82.
- D) The organic yield as a percentage of conventional yield is greater for vegetable crops than it is for oilseed crops.
Both the SAT and the ACT evaluate your ability to read graphics. They just do it in
a different way. If you are detail oriented and comfortable with charts and graphs,
the ACT may be a better fit. If you find information presented in this manner
confusing you may prefer the SAT since you get a break between questions of this
Consider the following questions when choosing your test:
- Am I comfortable with information presented in charts, tables and graphs? (ACT)
- Do I easily perceive differences in figures? (ACT)
- Does the subject of the information being provided by the graph influence my
ability to interpret the material? (SAT)
- Can I focus on detailed pieces of information or do I need to understand the big
Most importantly, don’t let the fact that the ACT has a science section be the sole
reason for choosing the SAT. The same skills are tested on both the ACT and the
SAT, just in different ways.
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