The ACT Tutor: ACT English vs SAT Writing

Posted by Helena Fitzgerald on 9/12/14 10:53 AM

The Decision resized 600

Where will you take your talents next fall?

As juniors and seniors go back to school, and the college application process starts its fearsome engines, one of the newest important choices that parents and students face is the choice between the SAT and the ACT tests. As both tests are now equally accepted by all colleges that require standardized test scores, and thought of with an equal degree of legitimacy, the choice comes down to what is best for each individual student. 

While the two tests are in the end far more similar than they are different, there are still some key factors to understand when comparing them. I’ve been doing a series of blogs, examining the two tests side-by-side, section by section, and have so far covered essay-writing, math, and science. Today we’ll talk about the English section on the ACT, how it corresponds (or doesn’t!) to the Writing Multiple-Choice section on the SAT. As always, although these comparisons can help with the choice of test, ultimately hard work and dedicated one-on-one tutoring will make far more of a difference in score results than which test the student chooses to take.

Here’s what you need to know: both tests have one or more sections that test a student’s comprehension of grammar rules. On the ACT, the English section is a 75-minute section made up of 7 passages. Each question corresponds to an underlined part of the passage, and the student must choose the best way to correct the underlined part from the answers given—much like the “Improving paragraphs” section of the SAT. On the SAT, the corresponding section is the Writing Multiple Choice, which consists of one 25 minute/35 question section and one 10 minute/14 question section. These are broken up into three types of questions: Correcting Sentences, in which the student must choose the best way to correct the underlined portion of a sentence; Identifying Sentence Errors, in which the student must determine which of the underlined words or phrases in a sentence is grammatically incorrect; and Improving Paragraphs, in which a student must correct the style and grammar of a short piece of writing.

Although these formats sound different, the two are much the same. Both test sections could be thought of as the multiple-choice version of reading through the rough draft of an essay and attempting to locate and fix all grammar (and style!) errors. The key differences in content are that the ACT tests punctuation errors, in particular commas, which get a lot of attention devoted to them, while the SAT does not test commas or other punctuation errors. The ACT also spends more time on structural corrections, while the SAT only will ask about structural errors and improvement (e.g. missing sentences, bad transitions) in the last 5 questions of the 35-question section (Improving Paragraphs).

The ACT English section is arguably more intensive, as at 75 questions it has the greatest number of questions of any ACT section, and unlike the SAT, the student must complete all this material in one uninterrupted charge. The volume of material on the English section of the ACT is greater than that on the SAT, but the SAT often tests trickier or more complex grammar issues. The SAT grammar section may be slightly easier simply due to lower volume of material and clearer repetition of concepts and question structure. However, I would encourage students deciding between them to sit a practice test in each to decide, even if English Lit and writing are the student’s strengths. If you’re still having trouble, consider contacting Cambridge Coaching to talk to an ACT tutor or SAT tutor. We have tutors available in New York, Boston, and online. Our team of PhD’s and graduate students from the top schools in the world has the experience and passion to help you get the score you need. Give us a call today, and see what what can do for you!


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Tags: ACT, SAT