ACT and SAT Tests Compared and Explained - Which is Better?

act-vs-satWhat Are The Differences Between ACT and SAT In Score, Format, Sections, and Cost?

Students thinking of joining college begin the journey by comparing college readiness tests include the SAT and ACT. The tests usually evaluate the student on the same topics, and their scores are vital in awarding college scholarships and admissions.

Most importantly, there is no preference for either test since universities and colleges accept SAT and ACT scores, and neither test is difficult than the other. Students should understand what each test entails to help guide them choose the ideal test.

In this guide, we will compare the ACT vs SAT tests and review their differences, so you can figure out which one to take to get into the college of your choice.

What is ACT Test?

ACT is a standardized college entrance exam used in evaluating students to make admission decisions. It is a multiple-choice test that high school juniors and seniors take in readiness for college.

It offers colleges a common data point for applicants’ comparison alongside other qualifications such as GPA and extracurricular activities. Test subjects include English, Math, Reading, and Science and an optional writing section.

What is SAT Test?

SAT is also a standardized exam overseen by the College Board that students have to take to join undergraduate schools. The test has been designed to evaluate the verbal, written, and mathematical skills of high school students aspiring to join college.

Test sections include Math, evidence-based Reading and Writing, and optional essay writing.

ACT vs SAT – What’s the Difference?

Although the tests are not identical, they are closely related in content following the 2016 redesign of SAT. Currently, both tests have similar sections in a predetermined sequence, with each section appearing once.

There is the optional essay writing section in both ACT and SAT, which doesn’t count to the total score, and the English section in ACT is referred to as the Writing and Language section in SAT.

Most importantly, there is no penalty for a wrong answer. But despite the similarities, the tests have differences, with the SAT being longer than the ACT.

SAT vs ACT Test Sections & Subjects

The ACT has four sections: English, Maths, Science, Reading, and the optional writing essay.

However, the SAT has four sections minus the science section, and they include Reading, Writing, Math (no calculator), Math (calc), and the optional essay.

SAT vs ACT Comparison Chart

ACT Test SubjectsSAT Test Subjects
EnglishWriting and Language
Essay (optional)Essay (optional)

The English section in the ACT, equivalent to Writing and Language in SAT, tests the same concepts. But, there are some differences in reading level and informational graphic questions.

In the ACT, passages are easy reading, usually up to 9th grade but, for the ACT, the difficulty level varies from high school to early college. In the ACT, all questions are about the text. But, in the SAT, there are graphs and table questions related to the text.

In Math, ACT has questions on basic math including, algebra and trigonometry but, SATs test advanced math skills. Also, ACT allows the use of a calculator on each question but, SAT has a 25 minute no calculator section of 20 questions. The questions are multiple choices in ACT, but 80% will be multiple-choice in SAT, and 20% will be grid in.

The Reading section differs in passage complexity and number of passages. ACT has five passages with standard reading levels from 20th -11th grade, while SAT has five passages with a reading level ranging from 9th grade.

Interestingly the Science section is in the ACT only, and there is no such test in SAT.

ACT versus SAT Test Format & Length

The ACT comprises four sections including, a science section but, the SAT doesn’t have a science section. Instead, it has two Math sections, one in which you can use a calculator and the other you cannot. Despite not having a science section, there will be science questions throughout the test. There are 215 questions in the whole ACT and only 154 questions in the SAT.

Test SectionACT Test QuestionsSAT Test Questions
English (ACT); Writing and Language (SAT)75 44
Essay (optional) 1 essay 1 essay
Total Questions215154

The ACT tends to be straightforward, and although questions are long, they are less difficult to answer. SAT questions are contesting and evidence-based in an attempt to focus on real-world situations and problem-solving.

SAT and ACT Test Duration & Time

ACT takes 2 hours and 55 minutes without the essay and 3 hours and 35 minutes including the writing essay, while SAT will take three hours without the essay, and 3 hours and 50 minutes including the essay.

Test SectionACT Test Time (Minutes)SAT Test Time (Minutes)
English (ACT); Writing and Language (SAT)4535
Essay (optional)4050
Total Exam Length in Minutes215230

With ACTs, time is pressured, with students struggling to finish the ACT sections due to the time limit. But, with SATs, there is plenty of time.

SAT vs. ACT Testing Dates

Both tests are offered seven times annually, with ACT available in February, April, June, July, September, October, and December, while SAT will be available in March or April, May, June, August, October, November, and December.

The registration deadline before the test date is five to six weeks for the ACT and four weeks for SAGT.

ACT versus SAT Topics Covered

For ACT, the content covered includes:

  • Math
  • Reading
  • Grammar usage
  • Science reasoning
  • Optional essay writing

On the other hand, SATs test:

  • Reading
  • Grammar usage
  • Math
  • Relevant words in context
  • Analytical writing (optional)

ACT vs SAT Scores

Scoring in the tests is different, and in the ACT, there is a composite score ranging from 1-36, which is the average of the answers a student gets right in each section. Test takers receive the individual section scores bit colleges prefer the composite score.

On the other hand, the SAT score ranges from 400 to 1600, and it is based on adding the math score from 200-800 and Reading/writing soirée ranging from 200-800. Interestingly the Reading and Writing sections in SAT are combined to one score of 800.

SAT vs ACT Score Comparison Chart

Test SectionsACT Test Score RangesSAT Test Score Ranges
English / Writing and Language1 - 36200 - 800
Math1 - 36200 - 800
Reading1 - 36200 - 800
Science1 - 36200 - 800
Total Possible Score361600

ACT and SAT Test Costs

Costs are also different, and ACTs cost $52 without the writing test and $68 with the optional writing test. On the other hand, SATs will cost $49.5 for the exam only, and if the optional essay writing is included, it will cost $64.50.

SAT and ACT Cost Comparison Chart

Test SectionsACT Test CostSAT Test Cost
Optional Essay Writing$16.00$15.00
Total Cost$68.00$64.50

There are also additional fees such as late registration, but sometimes students can receive fee waivers and do the exam for free.

Leave a Comment