Comparison between ACT and SAT with top differences to help you make the right choice.


At some point during the high school days, when students are thinking of college. The common question that comes to mind is; “What standardized test to take?”

A simple glimpse at the ACT  and SAT Tests  makes you think that they are the same. After all, both exams are nationally recognized tests and accepted by all colleges and universities in the US. This means that different students can apply for the same school, even if they write either of the exams.

Furthermore, both the ACT and SAT started many decades ago. Hence tailored their test to cover crucial areas (like problem-solving and reading comprehension) that are necessary for a student’s success in college. Other similarities between both of them due to the 2016 review of SAT are:

•  Their sections are alike and prearrange (reading, math, etc.).

•  There is no penalty for wrong answers.

•  There is an essay section which is not compulsory because it doesn’t add to your final score

•  They both have reading and English/writing questions (referred to as English on ACT and writing and language or writing on SAT).

Nevertheless, a closer look at both the test shows that they are distinct exams both in structure and content. The critical differences discussed below will help you decide the exam that suits you.

1. Time.

The overall time for SAT is 3hrs without the essay and 3hrs 50mins with essay, while for ACT it is 2hrs 55mins without the essay and 3hrs 35mins with essay. Let’s assume you spend the same amount of time on each question; it means you get to spend more time on each question for the SAT.

2. Mathematics section.

One of the significant differences between the math sections of each test is that the SAT has sections that allow the use of calculator and sections that forbid the use of calculators. While ACT grants the use of calculators for all math questions. Of course, the forbidden calculator section on the SAT is simple enough that you can answer it without a calculator. However, if you are the one who feels more relaxed knowing that you have a calculator to rely on, then ACT may be a good pick for you and best ACT Test Prep will helps you in getting high score.

Another difference in Math sections is the topics covered. The SAT includes data analysis and pre-calculus, which is missing in the ACT. Finally, you won’t get formulas in the ACT.

3. Science Section.

An important distinction between the SAT and ACT is the science section that exists in the ACT, which does not appear in the SAT. It is necessary to state here that you shouldn’t be afraid of the term “science.” This is because the science section majorly tests interpretation of graphs and analysis of data; there are a handful of questions that will test your scientific knowledge.

For students who have a challenge with mathematics, ACT will be a good fit for them, because the Math score in ACT represents 25% of the total score as a result of the science section. While in SAT, the Math score is 50% of the overall grade. Conversely SAT will be the right choice for students who do well in math.

4. Knowledge or critical thinking questions?

The ideologies of ACT and SAT are not the same. The ACT will ask you direct questions that test your know-how. SAT, on the other hand, will ask you for more imaginative questions that will test your critical thinking skills. For example, in the Math section, this difference can be seen clearly in questions involving equations and word problems. ACT will present more questions in the form of numbers or graphs, while the SAT will use more words and scenarios. In the English section, the ACT could ask more questions about grammar, while the SAT could put more attention on problems involving the style of writing and expression of ideas.

5. Essay section

The ACT and SAT both have an essay section which is not compulsory as explained earlier. If you decide to take the test with an essay, it is essential to be aware of what the essay in each test expects of you. SAT essay will test your understanding of the source text, while ACT essay will test your ability to select an argument and uphold it. In short, the SAT essay will be more like an AP or AP literature essay, While the ACT essay expects you to write an argumentative essay.

6. Vocabulary.

Up until March 2016, SAT Test included questions called “Sentence Completion” in which students had to complete sentences with the best from the options. Although such problems no longer exist in the SAT, still the English sections require a strong knowledge of vocabulary. For those who will opt for the SAT, it is advisable to spend some time improving on their vocabulary with proper SAT test prep.

It is vital to analyze all the comparison above with your strength, so you can pick the exam that best suits you. One other way to do this is to take a practice test of both exams and see where you have a higher score. After choosing the test that suits you, stick to it, practice more to improve yourself, and you can be sure of success.

(1) Comment

  • Tony Shivani August 10, 2019 @ 9:55 pm

    Best blog by Keen Minds academy for ACT coaching by Dr. Gary

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