Myth: SAT Math is Harder than ACT Math

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There’s an ongoing idea that the SAT is the more difficult of the two entrance exams. A tangential myth is that SAT math is harder than ACT math. However, like the parent myth, the difficulty will entirely depend on the students themselves.

The Differences in SAT and ACT Math

First off, let’s highlight the differences between the two Math sections.

ACT Math:

  • Pre-Algebra / Elementary Algebra
  • Intermediate Algebra / Coordinate Geometry
  • Plane Geometry / Trigonometry

The use of a calculator is permitted with all sections, though the questions themselves are designed to be answerable without it. However, you will have to memorize all mathematical formulas necessary, because the test won’t give them to you.

The Math portion lasts for one hour, and has 60 questions.

SAT Math:

  • Heart of Algebra (core algebra concepts, graphing)
  • Problem Solving & Data Analysis (charts, percentages, probability, statistics, etc.)
  • Passport to Advanced Math (quadratic formulas, polynomials, variables)

The SAT Math is broken up into two sections—With Calculator and Without Calculator, but each test will feature questions from the three main categories, as well as a few questions dealing with trigonometry and geometry. Additionally, the SAT has a few “grid in” questions, which require students to write in their answers, instead of picking a multiple choice answer.

Total, the Math section is 80 minutes. The With Calculator section is 55 minutes long, making the No Calculator portion 25 minutes long.

Overall, the ACT Math section is designed to work like math homework you’ve completed during high school, while the SAT is focused more on problem solving and interpretation.

Difficulty Depends on the Student

While there are similar mathematical concepts on both tests, students might find one or the other more difficult based on their own math skills.

This is true of the tests themselves as well. The ACT isn’t harder than the SAT or vice versa, despite what the myths say. A student who prefers English classes might benefit from taking the SAT, for example, because the SAT is known for its vocabulary and critical thinking skills. Students who favor math or science might find the ACT easier, since it’s a straightforward test that highlights formulas, charts, and graphs. It depends on the student.

Check out how your ACT / SAT score affects your acceptance odds with College Raptor’s free match tool!