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The two tests aren’t that different. Both the ACT and SAT are nationally recognized standardized tests and common admission requirements for US universities. You can apply to the same schools regardless of which test you take.


The similarities between both tests are:


  • Contain similar sections (Reading, Math, etc.) in a preset order, with each section appearing just once
  • Offer an optional essay section whose score does not count toward your total score
  • Use rights-only scoring, meaning you will not be penalized for incorrect answers
  • Contain entirely passage-based Reading and English/Writing questions (called “English” on the ACT and “Writing and Language,” or “Writing,” on the SAT)


However, there are also various differences in the two tests. Here is a brief overview.


Total Time 2 hrs 55 mins without Writing
3 hrs 35 mins with Writing
3 hrs without Essay
3 hrs 50 mins with Essay
Order of Sections 1. English
2. Math
3. Reading
4. Science
5. Writing (optional)
1. Reading
2. Writing and Language
3. Math No Calculator
4. Math Calculator
5. Essay (optional)
Time Per Section English: 45 mins
Math: 60 mins
Reading: 35 mins
Science: 35 mins
Writing (optional): 40 mins
Reading: 65 mins
Writing and Language: 35 mins
Math No Calculator: 25 mins
Math Calculator: 55 mins
Essay (optional): 50 mins
Number of Questions English: 75 questions
Math: 60 questions
Reading: 40 questions
Science: 40 questions
Writing (optional): 1 essay
Reading: 52 questions
Writing and Language: 44 questions
Math No Calculator: 20 questions
Math Calculator: 38 questions
Essay (optional): 1 essay
Scoring Total score range: 1-36

Each section uses a scale of 1-36. Your total score is the average of your four section scores.

The optional Writing section uses a scale of 2-12 and does not count toward your final score.

Total score range: 400-1600

The Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW) and Math sections each use a scale of 200-800 and are combined for a total score.

The optional Essay uses three separate scales of 1-8 and does not count toward your final score.

Cost $42.50 without Writing
$58.50 with Writing
$46 without Essay
$60 with Essay
Who Accepts Scores? Accepted by all colleges and universities in the US Accepted by all colleges and universities in the US



Let’s analyze in further detail the key differences between the two tests:


  1. Time: The SAT gives more time per question than the ACT.


Reading 53 sec/question 75 sec/question
ACT English/SAT Writing 36 sec/question 48 sec/question
Math 60 sec/question No Calculator: 75 sec/question
Calculator: 87 sec/question
Science 53 sec/question N/A
  1. Science Section- A key difference between the tests is that the ACT contains a science section whereas the SAT does not. The ACT Science section contains 40 questions and lasts 35 minutes. Like the other three ACT sections, Science constitutes one-fourth of the total ACT score.

That being said, the SAT does test scientific concepts — just not through a separate Science section. On the SAT, you’ll occasionally come across questions dealing with scientific passages, data, and charts on the Reading, Writing, and Math sections.

  1. No Calculator Math Section- the SAT contains a Math No Calculator subsection for which you may not use a calculator. Consisting of 20 questions, the No Calculator subsection is 25 minutes long, making it the shortest section on the SAT. (By contrast, the Math Calculator subsection is 55 minutes long and consists of 38 questions.)
  1. Math Concepts- Both tests have a big emphasis on algebra. The ACT has a much larger focus on Geometry and Trigonometry. The ACT also tests a few concepts that the SAT doesn’t test at all.These include things such as matrices, graphs of trig functions, and logarithms.


  1. Math Formulas Reference Guide- The SAT provides the math formulas whereas the ACT does not. Thus, making it easier on test day as you don’t need to memorize them.

  1. Importance of Math in the Final Score- On the ACT, math accounts for one –fourth of your total score, math section is averaged with the other three sections. On the SAT, math accounts for half the score. while ACT Math gives you five possible answer choices (A-E or F-K) for each question, SAT Math only gives you four (A-D).
  2. Grid in Math Questions: The SAT has more grid in questions, these are answers you have to determine on your own. The ACT, on the other hand has only multiple-choice answers. The no calculator section in the SAT has five grid ins and the calculator section has eight grid ins.
  3. Number of Answer Choices: The ACT gives five possible multiple-choice options and the SAT gives four.
  4. Evidence Support Reading Questions: Evidence-support questions are a big part of SAT Reading but are entirely absent on ACT Reading. These questions build off of the questions that come before them and ask you to cite specific lines or paragraphs as evidence for your answer to a previous question.


  1. Essay Content: These questions build off of the questions that come before them and ask you to cite specific lines or paragraphs as evidence for your answer to a previous question. On the ACT Writing section, however, your task is different. For this essay, you’ll read a short passage about an issue and then analyze the different perspectives on this issue. But unlike the SAT Essay, you’ll also give your own opinion on the issue here.

Which essay type is easier for you depends on what you’re better at and more comfortable with writing. With the SAT, you’ll need to have good reading comprehension skills in order to fully realize the strengths and weaknesses of the author’s argument. On the other hand, with the ACT, you need to be able to effectively compare and contrast different perspectives on an issue as well as give ample evidence to support your opinion.

Check out the SAT schedule for 2018

Check out the ACT schedule for 2018

Author: Kritika Malhotra

I am a career advisor and admissions counselor at Stoodnt. I have been in Education for the last 7 years. I have completed my education from Les Roches Switzerland and have worked for leading Swiss, US and Australian universities.


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