SAT vs. ACT: What’s the difference?


Most people think that the only difference between the ACT and the SAT is a matter of where you live.  Students in the Western half of the United States are usually taught that the ACT is most prevalent while students on the Eastern half of the United States lean towards the SAT as being more prevalent.  Students and their parents believe that the location of your dream school automatically decides what test you should take.  We’re going to bust that myth right here!  Where you live doesn’t determine what test you should take, YOU do.  Although it’s worth looking into at times, most colleges accept both the SAT and ACT as standardized entry tests.  What test is best for you is entirely up to you and we’re here to help you decide that now!

Determine whether the ACT or SAT will be best for you by learning more about their differences.  For example,


  • evaluates a student’s overall educational development and ability to complete college-level work.
  • is an achievement test that evaluates how well you have done overall through school.
  • has four multiple-choice subjects that are covered – English, Math, Reading, and Science.
  • writing test is an OPTIONAL 30-minute test designed to measure a student’s skills in planning and writing a short essay.  If a student opts to take the writing test, these scores will be listed separately.
  • is 214 questions and 2 hours and 55 minutes long, not including breaks or the 30-minute optional essay.
  • is much faster paced.
  • has no penalties for incorrect answers, only the correct responses are counted.  In this case, feel free to take an educated guess!
  • test scores range from a score of 1 to 36.
  • scores are based on the four subjects tested and an average from each section will create the overall score.
  • Math section covers more than the SAT – including trigonometry, algebra, and geometry.
  • English test focuses primarily on grammar and punctuation.
  • The Science section has logical reasoning based on data and scientific terms rather than classroom science.
  • The reading section asks questions that rely on reading comprehension.
  • colleges do not consider the scores of individual sections of the ACT.
  • when retaking the ACT your overall score is calculated each time although your highest score will always be what counts.

Overall, the ACT questions are more straightforward than the SAT question.  The ACT is considered to be a more intuitive test to better measure a student’s critical thinking ability.  Some student’s may consider the ACT a harder test due to the level of math involved while other students consider the ACT to be much easier because of the focus only on grammar and punctuation with an optional essay.


  • is designed to evaluate a more generalized thinking process that involves problem-solving skills.
  • is considered an aptitude test to measure how smart you are.
  • tests on Critical Reading, Math, and Writing.
  • sections are broken up into ten areas that include essay writing and multiple choice.
  • has a required 25-minute essay section.
  • has 170 questions and lasts 3 hours and 45 minutes with three short breaks to take the SAT.
  • scores range from 600 to 2400 and each test area is added together for a total score.
  • test areas are worth 800 points each for a max of 2400 points.
  • does penalize for wrong answers on multiple choice questions.
  • math questions are straight forward and easier than the ACT, testing within algebra and geometry skills.
  • requires work to be shown on all math questions.
  • colleges will consider your individual score of up to 800 for each section.
  • when retaking the SAT, your best square out of 800 for each section is added to your new, complete score even if you did your best on vocabulary the first time but not as well the second time.

Overall, the SAT has a style of tricky questions, puzzle-like question and logic-oriented question that make it a more teachable test within the classroom.  Once students become familiar with the SAT style, the test can be simple.  SAT Preparation Group is happy to help students worldwide to learn critical study habits and effective deductive reasoning skills.

Major differences to note: 

  • Although the questions are often considered more straight forward, the ACT tests on more subjects than the SAT.
  • Nearly every college will pick a variety of students via their SAT sub-scores meaning they consider the best combination of Math, Critical Reading and Writing based on the school’s reputation and the student’s desired major.
  • If students take the SAT more than once, the best score from each section will be combined for their true SAT score.  Very few colleges consider the sub-scores of the ACT.

We recommend that each student take a practice SAT or ACT test (<- get your practice test by clicking the link) to see which test he or she prefers.

For the student eager to do their best we always recommend to take both the SAT and the ACT at least once.

For one on one, In-Home or online tutoring worlwide with SAT Preparation Group contact us for a free SAT and ACT consultation.

To learn more about the SAT and ACT, check out our Frequently Asked Questions page.

file-1510552563SAT 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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