If you’re a high school student planning to apply to college in the United States, you’ll likely need to take either the SAT or ACT exam. These are standardised tests used by colleges and universities to evaluate applicants’ readiness for college-level coursework. But which test should you choose? In this post, we’ll explore the similarities and differences between these two tests to help you make an informed decision.

Structure and Format

The SAT and ACT both test your knowledge in reading, writing, and math. However, they differ in their structure and format. The SAT has four sections: Reading, Writing and Language, Math (no calculator), and Math (calculator). The Reading and Writing and Language sections are combined into one score. The total testing time for the SAT is 3 hours and 50 minutes, including the optional essay section.
The ACT has four sections: English, Math, Reading, and Science. There is also an optional Writing section. The total testing time for the ACT is 2 hours and 55 minutes (or 3 hours and 35 minutes with the Writing section).


The SAT is scored on a scale of 400 to 1600, with each section worth a maximum of 800 points. The optional essay is scored separately on a scale of 2 to 8. The ACT is scored on a scale of 1 to 36, with each section worth a maximum of 36 points. The optional Writing section is scored separately on a scale of 2 to 12.

Differences between the SAT and ACT Tests

1. SAT vs. ACT Scores

When you finish taking the SAT, you will be given a score ranging from 400 to 1600, while the ACT provides scores from 1 to 36. However, colleges and universities utilize a conversion chart to compare the scores of applicants who took either test.

2. Number of test questions

The number of assessment questions on the ACT is 215, whereas the SAT has 154 questions. This difference affects the time allocated per section for each exam.

3. Timing

The SAT provides more time per section, enabling test-takers to spend more time on each question. However, this may be because SAT questions require more writing and problem-solving skills, while ACT questions are more direct. For instance, the SAT reading comprehension section allows approximately 13 minutes per passage, while the ACT gives only eight minutes per passage.

4. Test sections

Both exams assess Math, Reading, and Writing, but the ACT also includes a Science section. The SAT has an extra non-calculator math section and provides a basic formula page.

Which Test Should You Take?

The decision to take the SAT or ACT depends on several factors, including your strengths and weaknesses, the requirements of the colleges you’re applying to, and the format of the test that suits you better.
Some colleges require or prefer one test over the other, so it’s important to research the requirements of the colleges you’re interested in. Check the admissions website or contact the admissions office to find out which test is required or recommended.

Consider your academic strengths and weaknesses when deciding which test to take. The SAT places more emphasis on critical thinking and reasoning skills, while the ACT places more emphasis on content knowledge. If you excel in English and writing, the SAT may be a better fit for you. If you excel in math and science, the ACT may be a better fit. Consider the format of the test that suits you better. The SAT is designed to be more challenging in terms of time constraints and critical thinking, while the ACT is designed to be more straightforward and content-based. Take practice tests for both the SAT and ACT to see which one you perform better on, and consider taking an SAT Subject Test in a subject area that you excel in to show your strength in a particular areas.

Preparing for the Test

Both the SAT and ACT require preparation in order to achieve your best score. Start preparing several months before the test date, and consider taking a test prep course or working with a tutor to improve your test-taking skills. Practice using official practice tests from the College Board or ACT to familiarise yourself with the format and content of the test. Stay calm on test day and remember to pace yourself throughout the exam.

In conclusion, understanding the similarities and differences between the SAT and ACT can help you make an informed decision about which one to take. Keep in mind that your test score is just one aspect of your college application, and admissions officers consider many other factors. ​We offer comprehensive test preparation services to help you achieve your goals. Our experienced tutors can work with you to develop a customised study plan, teach you test-taking strategies, and provide you with practice tests and feedback. Contact us today to learn more about our SAT and ACT preparation services and how we can help you succeed.