10 Key Differences Between SAT and ACT Tests

10 Key Differences Between SAT and ACT Tests

Dec 01, 2023

Hey there! If you're stressin' about which college admissions test to take—the SAT or ACT—then listen up. This guide's got ya covered on the key differences between these two big exams. We'll compare everything from how the tests are structured to what they actually test you're on. Read on for the low down so you can pick the right test for you.

How They're Set Up

First up, the SAT and ACT have pretty different structures.
The SAT has 4 sections: Reading, Writing, Math without a calculator, and Math with a calculator. There's also an optional essay section. The questions are multiple choice with 4 answer options.
The ACT is built around 4 sections too: English, Math, Reading, and Science, plus an optional essay. The questions are multiple choice with 4 answers to pick from.
So one big difference is that the ACT has a whole section devoted to science, while the SAT doesn't test science at all.
What Subjects They Cover

The content and subject areas tested are another key difference.
The SAT focuses more on critical thinking and problem solving skills. You'll have to analyze passages, write clearly, and apply math concepts.
The ACT covers specific subjects like English, reading, math and science. You need good knowledge in these areas for the ACT.
For math, the SAT covers a wider range of concepts while the ACT focuses on trig and geometry.
Bottom line: the SAT is more about reasoning while the ACT tests specific subject matter knowledge.
How They're Scored

The SAT has a total score between 400–1600 based on your Math and Evidence-Based Reading/Writing sections.
The ACT has a composite score between 1–36 that averages your English, Math, Reading, and Science scores.
Both have optional essay sections scored separately. The SAT lets you choose which scores to send colleges while the ACT sends all your scores.

The SAT takes 3 hours 50 minutes total. The ACT takes 2 hours 55 minutes not counting the essay.
For the SAT, time management is key so you can show your strengths. For the ACT, you need to work quickly and steadily.
Which One for You?

Think about your strengths and the requirements of colleges you want to apply to. Do practice tests and see how you do. Then you can decide if the SAT or ACT is better for you.
The goal is to play to your strengths and pick the test that fits you best. This guide summarizes the key differences between the two, so now you've got what ya need to make the right choice!