SAT vs ACT

By Jordan Fabel •  Updated: January 18, 2022  •  5 min read  •  College
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When it’s time to take the SAT or the ACT, it can be a difficult decision. Both tests are used to help influence the admittance decision into a college or university. Choosing between these two tests isn’t always easy.

Before you make the decision between the SAT and the ACT, you should know what these tests are. Let’s look at what each is and what the differences are between the SAT and the ACT.

What is the SAT?

The SAT or Scholastic Aptitude Test is a very popular standardized test for high school graduates. It’s accepted by more than 4,000 universities and colleges throughout the United States. Many universities found in other countries also accept the SAT. About 2.2 million students took the SAT in 2020.

SAT Structure

The SAT will evaluate a students’ knowledge by testing both mathematics and evidence-based reading and writing. These are the two main sections of the test. The SAT used to have a section specific to essay writing, but this section was removed in June 2021.

The breakdown of the questions on the SAT includes:

You can score as high as 1600 on the SAT. Each of the two main sections is scored from 200 to 800 points.

The SAT will take around three hours and 15 minutes to complete, including breaks. You will get 100 minutes to complete the reading and writing section. This will be split into 65 minutes for evidence-based reading and 35 minutes for writing. The mathematics section will give you 80 minutes to complete with 55 minutes for calculator questions and 25 minutes without a calculator.

What is the ACT?

The ACT or the American College Test is a standardized test for high school graduates. It’s used to help determine your eligibility for enrollment in a university. Many U.S. colleges and universities accept ACT scores including Ivy League schools.

The ACT is a collection of curriculum-based questions that will closely relate to courses taken in high school. In 2020, about 1.67 million students took the ACT. It can be taken several times throughout the year.

ACT Structure

When you decide to take the ACT, you should know how it’s structured. The questions are split into four sections and include:

Each section will be scored on a scale of 1 to 36. The final score will be an average of the four sections. There is an optional writing section, too, but this will not be added to your final score. It will factor into the English section and it’s scored on a scale of 2 to 12 points.

The ACT will take around 3 hours and 30 minutes to complete. There are breaks included in that time. You will get 45 minutes to complete the English section, 60 minutes for the mathematics section, and 35 minutes each for the reading and science sections.

SAT vs ACT: The Differences

The major differences between the SAT and the ACT are related to the timing of the test and the material. Overall, the content of both tests is rather similar with sections for English and mathematics. However, the ACT also has a science section and an optional essay, which the ACT doesn’t have.

When comparing the SAT and the ACT, the time you get per question is the biggest difference. The ACT is a bit faster-paced and gives you an average of 50 seconds per question. With the SAT, you get around 70 seconds per question, on average.

The SAT also consists of five reading passages, while the ACT only has four. The ACT will also cover probability and statistics, while the SAT covers data analysis in the mathematics section.

When you take the ACT, you will be able to use a calculator on all the mathematics questions. The SAT will allow a calculator for some questions, but there will be some you cannot use a calculator for.

The way the two tests are scored is also different. The SAT will produce a score on a range from 400 to 1600. The ACT, on the other hand, will produce a score from 1 to 36.

SAT vs ACT: Is One Easier than the Other?

If you’re trying to choose one test over the other because one is easier than the other, you won’t find much success. Both are equally difficult. However, one test may be easier than the other specifically for you.

For example, if you don’t believe you will do well on the SAT math section because of the questions you cannot use a calculator for, you might want to take the ACT. However, the ACT will include questions about matrices and logarithms, so if you struggle with those types of questions, you might want to take the SAT.

Should I Take the SAT or the ACT?

Understanding the SAT and the ACT can help you choose which one to take. In some cases, you might want to take both the SAT and the ACT. Making the decision between the two tests isn’t always easy.

However, one of the best ways to choose between the SAT and the ACT is taking practice tests. You can take a practice test for each standardized test and see which one you feel more comfortable with.

Of course, if the university or college you want to attend only accepts the SAT or only takes the ACT, you want to choose that test. Most colleges and universities will accept either the ACT or the SAT. However, some options may only take one or the other test.

Once you choose the SAT or the ACT, you can move on to preparing for the actual test. With a good test prep course for the SAT or the ACT, you can make sure you score as high as possible on the test.

Jordan Fabel

Jordan Fabel

Covering different 'paths' that people's lives can take. Creative, foster parent, ticket dismissal, you get the idea. Exploring the requirements, certifications, exams, and obviously, approved courses along each path. I, personally, am the high school dropout son of two teacher parents. So how did I get here? That story is coming soon!