Differences between SAT and ACT

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The SAT (earlier called Scholastic Aptitude Test) and ACT (originally called American College Testing) are conducted typically for admission to undergraduate programs of colleges and universities, mostly in the United States.


Both the examinations are paper-based standardized tests, and they generally test knowledge of the same type of contents with subtle differences in test format. Both SAT and ACT measure a student’s performance in key skill areas such as problem solving. For undergraduate admissions, colleges place a SAT score on a par with an ACT score, and do not prefer one to the other.

Here is a quick look at the differences between SAT and ACT.

  • Test Structure
    • Reading (5 passages)
    • Writing & Language
    • Math (Includes Arithmetic, Trigonometry, Algebra I & II, Geometry, & Data Analysis)
    • Essay (optional)
    • English
    • Math (Includes Arithmetic, Algebra I & II, Geometry & Trigonometry)
    • Reading (4 passages)
    • Science
    • Essay (optional)
  • Science


    Includes 1 Science section that tests your critical thinking skills, not theoretical knowledge

  • Test Duration

    3 hours (without Essay)
    3 hours & 35 minutes (with Essay)

    2 hours & 55 minutes (without Essay)
    3 hours & 40 minutes (with Essay)

  • Policy on calculator usage

    Math Test – Calculator
    Math Test – No Calculator

    Calculator is allowed on all Math questions

  • Time Per Section

    Reading - 65 minutes
    Writing & Language - 35 minutes
    Math (No Calculator) - 25 minutes
    Math (Calculator) - 55 minutes
    Essay (optional)- 50 minutes

    English - 45 minutes
    Math - 60 minutes
    Reading - 35 minutes
    Science - 35 minutes
    Essay (optional): 40 minutes

  • No. of Questions

    Reading - 52
    Writing & Language - 44
    Math (No Calculator) -20
    Math (Calculator)- 38

    Math- 60
    Science - 40

  • Essay

    Your understanding of a source text will be tested

    How well you weigh up and analyze complex issues will be assessed

Test Dates

The SAT is offered four times a year – October, December, March and May – in countries other than the United States.


The SAT has two sections - Evidence-based Reading and Writing (EBRW) and Math. On each section, you can earn a scaled score between 200 and 800 points for a total of 1600 points. Each section score is a multiple of 10. The optional essay section carries a maximum score of 24 and is separately scored.

The ACT has four sections – English, Math, Reading and Science. You will be awarded a scaled score between 1 and 36 for each section. This score is based on the number of questions you answer correctly, which is known as raw score. These sectional scores are averaged to make up your overall score that also falls between a minimum of 1 and a maximum of 36. No points are deducted for any wrong answer in ACT.


The SAT tests primarily reading comprehension skills, numeracy, writing, problem solving and reasoning skills, considered essential to take you successfully through college programs. Administrators assess your readiness for college, taking into account both high school grades and SAT score.

The ACT measures reasoning skills to solve practical problems, reading comprehension skills, skills in interpretation, analysis, evaluation, relating given information to conclusions drawn or hypotheses developed or gaining new information, drawing new conclusions, or making predictions.

Choosing Between SAT and ACT

When it comes to the big question of choosing between SAT and ACT, one of the best ways is to take timed, full-length tests either online or from a professional preparatory guide. Make sure that you follow the test format as closely as you could.

The right choice is the examination that suits your strengths the most, and the one that can bring out the best in you. Furthermore, factors like managing the pressure on time allotted and the complexity level of questions can help you decide which test could be your best bet. Connect with qualified experts for personalized and focused online tutoring from the comfort of your home.

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