5 Pro Tips for the ACT When You’ve Already Taken the SAT

difference between ACT and SAT

Wondering about the difference between ACT and SAT? If both are part of your admission requirements for your schools of choice, you can make the most of your prep time by knowing a few simple pointers. Learn more in this guest post by Merrick, NY tutor Justin L...


So by now you’ve taken your SAT, received your score, and just received an email from the college admissions office about your ACT. Until now, you may have never even considered the test. A few of your friends may have taken the test and mentioned something about science or an essay, but that’s about it. With test day drawing near, you’re going to need to know what to do differently on the ACT. Follow these five easy pointers and you’ll be ready in no time.

What’s the Difference Between the ACT and SAT?

Just about everything that was on the SAT will be on the ACT. You will still have a minute per question, but this time you are going to want to put an answer down for each one. Treat it as if it’s a normal test at school. Regarding the math that will be on the test, if you took the time to prepare for the SAT math, you are at a pretty good starting point. Every trick that you picked up to prepare for the SAT can be used on the ACT (just make sure you don’t leave any blanks.) However, there will be a few new topics that you are going to have to be ready to face. There are four trigonometry questions, two questions on logarithms, and two questions on matrices (more than one matrix). This is only eight new questions. If you really get stuck on one of these, try not to fret. There are 60 math questions on the ACT. There’s no reason to get stressed out over only two of them.

In With the New

If you can handle SOHCAHTOA, graph and identify the traits of a sine wave on a graph, and work with basic trig proofs, you will be well-equipped for those four trigonometry questions. The logarithm questions are pretty much the same ones that you do in your normal math class. Go back to your notes from school to get an idea of what you will be in for. The matrix questions will be the only real curveballs. You might not have really learned that topic in school, but that’s okay. These questions tend to be straightforward. If you can perform those three operations, you will do fine — if you’re nervous, though, it may be worth your time to work with a tutor to help you review the material.

Conversions Come First

The ACT geometry questions tend to involve figures with lengths given in different units of measurements. One object may be given in inches and the other may be given in feet. Best practice is to convert everything upfront. Make everything into inches and then work through the question. The math will be easier to digest and you will be more likely to come up with the correct answer.

No Formulas

The SAT gave you a handy reference table right at the beginning of each math section. As great as that was, the ACT isn’t going to be so forgiving. That’s one big difference between ACT and SAT tests. At the beginning of your 60-minute, 60-question math section, you are NOT going to be provided with any of those helpful hints. So take the time to get to know your formulas. Take a sheet of paper, go back to one of your SAT books, and write down all of those formulas. Save the paper! Add anything else you may need to memorize to that paper. Take five minutes, twice a day, to review that piece of paper. Memorize it. Learn it. Love it. You will need to know those things for the test.


My students always ask me if the ACT is easier or harder than the SAT. In all honesty, the answer really depends on the student, but I always feel that the ACT’s “easy” questions are a lot easier and the “hard” questions are a lot harder. These hard questions tend to involve functions and conic sections. These questions tend to be more straightforward, but require more advanced, algebraic calculations. Make sure you get some practice in on evaluating functions, function composition, parabolas, and word problems involving functions. A local math tutor (and myself, of course) can easily get you some practice and help as these topics are usually included (and should be included) in your algebra 2/trig class.

JustinLJustin L. teaches ACT math, PSAT, SAT, and test prep in Merrick, NY.  He received his Bachelor of Science in Math and Masters of Arts in Math Education at Adelphi University. Justin has more than six years of experience working with students privately, in classrooms, as well as store-front tutoring companies. Learn more about Justin here!



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