Mindprint: SAT vs. ACT Made Easy

Conventional wisdom says to take both the SAT and ACT as a diagnostic to see which one’s the better fit. But when you have more information at your fingertips, you really shouldn’t. And with the pandemic, it’s challenging to take both these days, not to mention time-consuming. Keep reading for an easier way to choose which test to take.

Understanding the Differences Between the SAT and ACT

When deciding which test is for you, it’s important to know the key differences between the tests. This will help you make an informed decision. On a basic level, the SAT and ACT are pretty similar in that they’re both college entrance exams. Colleges don’t prefer one over the other. 

However, the SAT and ACT vary widely in pacing and structure. Generally, the SAT tests more critical thinking while the ACT is more content-knowledge based. View the chart below for an overview of differences in structure, timing, scoring, and content.

Structure & Timing4 Sections, 3 hrs
(1) Reading: 52 questions, 65 min
(2) Writing & Language: 44 questions, 35 min
(3) Math (No Calculator): 20 questions, 25 min
(4) Math (with Calculator): 38 questions, 55 min
4 Sections, 2 hrs & 55 min
(1) English: 75 questions, 45 min
(2) Math: 60 questions, 60 min
(3) Reading: 40 Questions, 35 min
(4) Science: 40 questions, 35 min
ScoringVerbal (Reading & Writing sections combined): 800 possible
Reading: subscore of 40 
Writing & Language: subscore 40
Math (Math sections combined): 800 possible
Verbal and math scores are added together for a total possible cumulative score of 1600.
Each section receives a score out of 36. Those 4 scores are averaged together for a cumulative score of 36.
Content DifferencesMore critical thinking and emphasis on vocabularyAdvanced/broader range of math topics; analytical science skills

There are other key differences not mentioned in the chart. The ACT gives significantly less time per question: 50 seconds per question on average versus the SAT’s 67 seconds per question. On the math section, the SAT also has grid-in questions with no answer choices. On the ACT, the math section has 5 answer choices as opposed to 4. The reading section on the SAT also has 5 passages while the ACT reading has only 4.

Because of these fundamental pacing and style differences, your typical SAT student looks a lot different from your typical ACT student. Most students lean towards one test. Other students have virtually equivalent scores on both tests. If studying for the SAT or ACT on your own, take practice tests of both to see which you score higher on. Use a site like this to convert and compare your scores. If there’s a significant difference of at least 50 points, you likely lean towards a certain test. 

Which test should you take?

Each test caters to a different set of strengths, which is why it’s important for a student to understand their unique skill set. That’s where our secret weapon comes: Mindprint. A single Mindprint diagnostic can give you the information you need. Mindprint is a learning assessment that tests for a student’s cognitive strengths and weaknesses. When you know where your strengths lie, it makes the task of choosing which test to focus on so much easier.

Watch the video instead.

Mindprint Skills

Mindprint assesses 10 core cognitive skills: Abstract Reasoning, Verbal Reasoning, Spatial Perception, Attention, Working Memory, Flexible Thinking, Verbal Memory, Visual Memory,  Processing Speed, and Visual Motor Speed. These skills can be further categorized into complex reasoning/critical thinking, executive functions, memory, and speed/efficiency. 


Abstract reasoning: understanding non-language-based information

Verbal reasoning: understanding language-based information

Spatial perception: understanding how objects relate in space

Executive Functions

Attention: sustaining focus

Working memory: juggling multiple bits of information in short-term memory

Flexible thinking: thinking about things in a different way


Verbal memory: recalling language-based information

Visual memory: recalling non-language-based information


Processing speed: how fast you process and respond to new information

Visual motor speed: how well your hands and eyes work together

Skills Needed for Each Test

Some skills are needed for both tests. These include attention, working memory, and visual motor speed. With attention, both tests are pretty long, clocking in at 3 hours, so it’s important to be able to maintain your focus throughout. Taking several timed practice tests can also help build your test-taking stamina. Working memory is needed for multi-step problem-solving. Visual motor speed comes into play when you’re taking notes and bubbling in your answers.


A student whose strengths lie in processing speed, spatial perception, visual memory, and abstract reasoning are better suited for the ACT. With the ACT, speed trumps accuracy since you’re under a time crunch; high processing speed is a must. Spatial perception comes in handy on the science section and with geometry math questions (ACT has more geometry questions), allowing you to picture how objects relate in space. Visual memory helps you remember math formulas, which are all too important since the ACT math section doesn’t provide any. Abstract reasoning factors in on advanced math topics and the science section.


Flexible thinking, verbal reasoning, and verbal memory strengths serve you best on the SAT. And unlike the ACT, accuracy is more important than speed. Flexible thinking helps you face the trickier questions the SAT is known for and the critical-thinking heavy reading section. Problem solving and fluidity is key. Verbal reasoning will also help you read between the lines. Strong verbal memory helps you remember vocabulary needed for the SAT.

Don’t get discouraged if a skill listed above is one of your weaknesses. Mindprint also gives you tools and strategies to support weaker cognitive skills, which is why understanding your strengths and weaknesses is so helpful. You can still do well on the test with practice. Streamline super tutors are also trained to help you strengthen these areas.

Get the full picture. Inquire about the Mindprint diagnostic today. 

ACT vs. SAT: Which Test Should You Take?

ACT vs. SAT: Which Test Should You Take?

It’s a question we hear often from our students: Should I take the ACT or SAT?

The truth is, colleges don’t prefer one test over the other. Both the ACT and SAT are similar in terms of content but differ in pacing and style. So, it’s important to pick the one that puts your best foot forward – and focus only on that one.

Ultimately, the best way to determine which test is the better fit for you is to take a diagnostic for each and compare the scores.

Who should take the ACT?

Students who work well under the pressure of a time crunch and are able to rapidly process data and numbers may find the ACT is a better fit for them. Here’s what we’d consider an ideal ACT student:

– Excellent student. Straight A student whose PSAT scores don’t necessarily reflect academic ability

– Ace with the calculator. Loves the TI-84+ calculator and knows how to maximize its functionality 

– Black-and-white thinker. Can quickly process information and numbers

– Always takes charge in the science lab and never misses a procedural step. The science section on the ACT hardly requires any actual science knowledge; instead, it tests your ability to read tables and graphs, and evaluate scientific hypotheses in a timely fashion

– Finishes homework and tests quickly and accurately. Can assimilate information fast to come to an answer; doesn’t overthink. The ACT gives an average of 50 seconds per question, while the SAT gives 70 seconds

– In AP English, but doesn’t read much. Only reads assigned materials and sometimes needs to refer to SparkNotes. The ACT uses a 10th to 11th grade reading level, whereas the SAT’s reading levels range from 9th grade to early college, and passages are more dense

– Vocabulary isn’t the strongest. This leads to missing some major points in the PSAT/SAT reading sections

Who should take the SAT?

Students who are strong critical thinkers and like to think through information carefully before coming to a decision might find that they’re better suited for the SAT. Many of these qualities describe them:

– Often feels rushed on tests. Doesn’t work so well under pressure and routinely feels rushed on timed exams. Likes to have the time to think about a question from multiple angles before deciding on an answer

– Takes longer to complete homework assignments. Applies critical thinking skills to all homework and projects, which in turn take longer to complete

– Strong mental math abilities. Often gets a math question right by solving it in a different way from the rest of the class. Would thrive on the “no calculator” section of the SAT

– Sarcastic, broad-thinking personality. Loves sarcasm and wit and always thinks about ideas in a roundabout way rather than strictly in a linear manner

– Makes insightful comments in English class. Well-read, reads for fun, has strong reading comprehension skills, and is great at discussing literary subtexts

– Extensive voc abulary. Scored very high on the PSAT reading section

While these are generalizations, they do help paint a picture of which type of student tends to do better on which exam. If you want to make sure which test is the better fit and live in the Baltimore area, sign up for a free diagnostics test here!


I got my PSAT scores… now what?

I got my PSAT scores… now what?

This week, most sophomores and juniors have recevied their PSAT results. We promise, even if you are disappointed by the score, there is no reason to freak out just yet!   Before we get into it, please check out this blog that generally explains how you should...
3 Key Principles for the SAT

3 Key Principles for the SAT

Why Believe Anything?

In the age of fake news and alternative facts, it often feels impossible to tell what is true anymore. One can prove any belief wrong. How? With contrasting evidence, and it makes us return to the question: “Why believe anything at all?” This uncertainty has even leaked in the SAT.

With countless books and prep courses available, picking the “right” path can seem impossible. It can be tempting to throw your hands in the air and let fate decide how you score. Even worse though, is thinking that you can’t improve at all. This question gets right at the heart of what students ask themselves as they struggle in classes: am I smart?

Is Intelligence Determined at Birth?

Everyone has asked themselves this at some point, but we’re unsure of the answer. Psychologists still debate this question, and the lack of answers means that no one knows what to believe. In some cases, the best course of action is to opt out of this migraine-inducing process of worrying about which belief is correct. A better choice is to simply choose the belief that will benefit you the most.

The question over whether intelligence is fixed or not has divided psychologists, with studies from Psychology Today saying that it is not, while studies by the Centre for Educational Neuroscience claim the opposite. So, what should you believe? Well, what psychologists in the first study used to prove their point was the idea of a growth mindset. Intelligence can grow with conscious effort. This belief led to increased scores on tests of intelligence, like the ACT and SAT. Both the SAT and ACT are considered decent proxies for IQ tests by psychologists and groups like Mensa. The benefits of maintaining a growth mindset vs. a fixed mindset can be thought of as habits to cultivate.

How to Promote a “Growth” Mindset?

Carol Dweck, a lead psychologist at Stanford and proponent of growth mindsets, outlines multiple ways that people can foster a growth mindset in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. We at Streamline Tutors want to highlight a couple of them. Specifically, one way to move towards a growth mindset is “Know your learning style and use the right learning strategies”. Many tutors claim to know the learning style of their pupils. However, we at Streamline Tutors offer a comprehensive MindPrint screening. Mindprint is a psychometrically valid battery of tests. It gives our tutors an unparalleled advantage in recognizing our student’s learning style.

The results of the test allow our tutors to create individualized study plans that ensure optimal results from our sessions. The other step we stress is “choose learning well over learning fast.” Our test prep for the SAT averages about five months of prep because we want our students to master what they learn. This prepares them both for test day and the rest of their academic career, but can take longer if the student is struggling on certain concepts. Fostering a growth mindset is vital to navigating today’s increasingly complex challenges, but starts with what we believe.

What is a good PSAT score for 2020?

What is a good PSAT score for 2020?

PSAT scores have just come out and you might be looking at your score wondering what exactly it means. Is it a good score? Worthy of getting you into your dream school or getting you a scholarship? How is it different from the SAT? Does it mean you have to take the SAT instead of the ACT to get into college? Read for the answer to these questions and more.

What is the PSAT?

The PSAT is a standardized test taken by high school juniors and sophomores. It measures college readiness and what you learned in high school. 

“PSAT” stands for Preliminary SAT. Did you know there were two versions of the tests? There’s the PSAT/NMSQT and the PSAT 10 (and even the PSAT 9 for freshmen at some schools!). 

The PSAT/NMSQT is given in the fall at school to 11th and 10th graders. “NMSQT” stands for National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. According to CollegeBoard, “Scores from this test are used by scholarship programs, including the National Merit® Scholarship Program, to look for eligible students.”

The PSAT 10 is given in the spring at school to 10th graders. Scholarship programs use the scores to look for eligible students, but the National Merit Scholarship Program isn’t included.

Essentially, the PSAT/NMSQT and PSAT 10 are the same test, just offered at different times. For clarity, I’ll refer to both as “the PSAT” in the rest of the post.

Score Structure

The PSAT has a cumulative score range of 320-1520. It is made up of two section scores: Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW), and Math. Those sections each have a range of 160-760. They are added together to get your cumulative score.

The PSAT has 3 test scores, Reading, Writing and Language, and Math, each given a subscore from 8-38. There are also two cross-test scores, Analysis in History/Social Studies and Analysis in Science (from 8-38) and 7 subscores under Reading and Writing and Language and Math (from 1-15.)

What’s a “good” PSAT score?

When you log in to your CollegeBoard account to view your scores, you’ll see college readiness benchmarks for each section. The benchmarks for 2020-2021 are 430 for Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and 480 for Math for sophomores and 460 for Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and 510 for Math for juniors.

If you score at or above the benchmark, that means you’re on track to be ready for college when you graduate high school, according to CollegeBoard. However, scoring below this benchmark likely means you have more preparation to do to be college-ready.

You’ll also see a percentile rank, a number from 1-99 that shows how well you scored as compared to other students. For example, scoring in the 63rd percentile means you scored better or the same as 63-percent of the students in your grade. The higher your percentile rank, the better your score.

But let’s talk numbers! View the chart below for a better idea of where your score falls.

PercentileEBRW ScoreMath ScoreCumulative Score
Best: 99%700-760710-7601410-1520
Excellent: 90-98%610-690590-7001200-1390
Very Good: 75-89%550-600530-5801080-1190
Good/Above Average: 56-74%490-540470-520960-1070
Okay/Average: 45-55%450-480450-460900-950
Low/Below Average: 1-44%160-440160-440320-890

Note: If you’re planning to apply to the most selective schools in the country, you want your score to be in the 95th percentile or higher. Keep in mind that other parts of your college application, like your academic profile (GPA and course rigor), should be strong in tandem with your scores. 

How can you improve your score?

The PSAT is a great indicator of how you’ll do on the actual SAT. If you were to take the SAT, your score would be very close to your PSAT score. But you still have the option of taking the ACT instead. You can also use your PSAT score to see whether the SAT or ACT is a better fit.

If you’re concerned about whether your score is good enough to get into the schools you’re applying to, check out the 50th percentile SAT scores for accepted students. Your score should fall at or above this range to be a competitive applicant.

If your score is significantly below the average SAT scores, or you want to improve your score to increase your chances of getting into college or earning a scholarship, you have plenty of time to study! You can self-study using online resources or a test prep book, or you can do tutoring with a test prep expert. We find one-on-one tutoring with an expert tutor alongside online skill-building software to be the most effective.