ACT vs SAT Math

The SAT and ACT are both accepted standardized tests for admission to every college in the US, so we highly recommend that you figure out which test is best for you! One way to do that is to compare the math sections and figure out which one complements your strengths the most. You could take practice tests from each test and try to figure it out on your own. Or you can read on to find out some of the major differences between the SAT math and ACT math!



The ACT Math is 60 minutes long and contains 60 multiple choice questions. This gives you a minute per question. The test is arranged from easy to hard, so you may spend more or less time per question. You can use an ACT approved calculator for the entirety of the section. The maximum score is 36, and it counts for 25% of your composite score.


The SAT Math has 2 parts. The first is a no calculator section. It has 15 multiple choice questions and 5 grid-in questions to be completed in 25 minutes. This gives you about 1 minute 15 seconds per question. The second part allows an SAT approved calculator. You get 55 minutes to complete 30 multiple choice and 8 grid-in questions. This gives you about 1 min 26 seconds per question. Like the ACT, both SAT Math sections are arranged from easy to hard, so you may spend more or less time per question. The maximum score for the entire Math section is 800, which means it counts for 50% of your composite score.

Reference sheet

There is no reference sheet on the ACT, so you’re responsible for knowing all formulas. The SAT provides a reference sheet with 12 commonly used geometry formulas. This might be something to consider if you haven’t taken geometry in a while or if you struggle to remember formulas.


The SAT and ACT math covers many of the same topics. Having a solid foundation in pre-algebra, algebra 1, algebra 2, geometry, and some trigonometry is crucial for success on both tests. However, the ACT includes graphs from trigonometry, logarithms, and matrices while the SAT does not. Geometry questions make up about 30-45% of the ACT, while the SAT contains about 10% geometry.

SAT Math Topics:

  • Heart of Algebra: linear equations, inequalities, systems of linear equations/inequalities, 
  • Problem Solving and Data Analysis: ratios, proportions, percentages, graphs/charts, statistics, and probability.
  • Passport to Advanced Math: quadratic/exponential equations and graphs.
  • Additional Topics in Math: geometry and trigonometry.

ACT Math Topics

  • Preparing for Higher Math (57-60%)
  • Number and Quantity: real/complex numbers, integers/rational exponents, vectors, and matrices.
  • Algebra: linear, polynomial, radical, and exponential equations
  • Functions: linear, radical, piecewise, polynomial, and logarithmic functions.
  • Geometry: shapes and solids, trigonometric ratios, trig graphs
  • Statistics and Probability: spread of distributions, data collection methods, and calculating probabilities.
  • Integrating Essential Skills (40-43%): rates/percentages, proportions, area and volume, mean and median, and equivalent expressions; problems that combine Preparing for Higher Math content

Question Types

Both the ACT and SAT contain problems similar to those in a textbook as well as some that require critical thinking. In general, the ACT tends to have more straightforward questions that test whether you know the math concepts and when to apply them. The SAT usually has more word problems and data analysis questions. 


The ACT and SAT math sections cover similar content in different ways. By considering the formatting, time limits, and question types, you can choose the test that shows off your math skills the best! 

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