What is the Difference between the SAT and ACT?


Many students and their parents base whether or not to take the SAT or ACT by basic college requirements.  If you see that your preferred school favors one test over the other, then you already know what you have to do.  However, if the colleges you are applying to do not specify whether to take the SAT or the ACT you can bet those schools do not favor one test over the other.  Either way, you’ll want to decide which test is best for you!

This is where we’d like to tell you the differences between the ACT and the SAT test.

All About The ACT

The ACT is designed to evaluate an overall educational development of the student and their ability to complete college-level work.

The ACT has four multiple-choice subjects that are covered.  These subjects include English, Math, Reading, and Science.  The Writing Test at the end is optional.  This writing test is a 30-minute writing 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.

The ACT is 214 questions and a student has 2 hours and 55 minutes to take the test, not including breaks or the 30-minute optional essay.  This test is much faster paced.

On the ACT there are 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 1 to 36 are determined by correct answers given.  The four areas that are tested on are then averaged together to come up with an overall score.

The ACT math section covers more broad, math subjects then the SAT.  The ACT includes trigonometry in addition to both algebra and geometry.  However, the ACT’s 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 of the ACT asks questions that rely on reading comprehension.

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.

All About The SAT

The SAT is designed to evaluate a more generalized thinking process that involves problem-solving skills.

The SAT tests on Critical Reading, Math, and Writing.  These sections are broken up into ten areas that include essay writing and multiple choice.  The SAT also has a required 25-minute essay section.

The SAT has 170 questions and students are given a total of 3 hours and 45 minutes with three short breaks to take the SAT.

SAT scores range from 600 to 2400.  Each test area is combined for a total score.  Each test area is worth 800 points for a max of 2400 points on the SAT.  No matter how many times you take the SAT, your best score from each section makes up a new score even if you scored best on math the first time and best on writing the last time you take the test.

The SAT does penalize for wrong answers on multiple choice questions unlike the ACT.  The SAT also has a part within the Math section where students are required to produce their own answers and show their work.

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 with In-Home or Online SAT Learning to learn critical SAT study habits and effective deductive reasoning skills.

Some things to consider:  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.  Very few colleges consider the sub-scores of the ACT.

We recommend that each student take a SAT or ACT practice test to see which test he or she prefers.  If the colleges that the student is interested in accepts both the SAT and the ACT, consider taking both tests.

See what The New York Times says about the SAT vs. the ACT here.


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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