SAT Prep FAQs: Differences Between the SAT and ACT

The SAT is filled with rolling difficulty levels, penalties for wrong answers, sophisticated reading passages, implicate answer choices, brain twisting names, and ridiculous math questions.  In short the SAT requires an extreme attention to detail that most students are entirely unfamiliar with.  The test even has what I call the “Random Mystery Section” that doesn’t even count to the score and is designed to intimidate unsuspecting teenager to new levels of frustration and angst.  There are nine sections on the SAT that do count to the score including an essay, three critical reading sections, three math sections, and two multiple choice grammar sections in mostly random order with a mystery section interspersed somewhere in between.  All that equals about five hours of grueling testing.

We prefer to start a student out doing SAT prep first because of its depth of attention to detail this makes the transition to the ACT much easier.  It doesn’t usually work the other way around.  Since most colleges take the best of whichever test we usually have students take both test to see which they are better at and then stick to that one for them.

The questions on the ACT are far more straightforward with a few curve balls for good measure.  The major difference is that students have to move faster on the ACT because there are more questions in less time.  There are no penalties for wrong answers on the ACT so guessing is encouraged when an answer cannot be deduced.  Never the less the focus should be on maximizing correct answers to get the highest possible score.  Rather than having random rolling difficulty levels like the SAT, the ACT goes in the same order every time and contains only one section of each starting with English, grammar, math, reading, science, and the essay (which most colleges require so be sure to sign up for it.)  The length of the ACT is slightly shorter at about 4 hours.

We hope this has answered all your questions about the ACT versus the SAT!  To make sure you’re prepared for your ACT or SAT take our free diagnostics test.  Request your copy at our link below.


Steve Kirshenbaum, M.S. is an Educational Consultant and Founder of SAT Preparation Group, which specializes in worldwide ACT / SAT coaching. SAT Preparation Group advises in test prep, college planning, and success strategies for teens. SAT Preparation Group can be reached at 877-672-8773 or

SAT Preparation Group advises in test prep, college planning, and success strategies for teens. Call Us Today at 877-672-8773 or click here for a free consultation.

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