Help line Number :


ACT vs. SAT: Key differences between the ACT and SAT

ACT vs SAT: which test is a better fit for your student? Students may take whichever test they prefer (assuming there are available testing locations for both tests). If you’re not sure which test your child would prefer, consider the key differences between the ACT and SAT. Some students find that the ACT caters to their strengths more so than the SAT, and vice versa.

Need a quick side-by-side comparison of the tests?  Check out our ACT vs. SAT Comparison Chart.




SAT or ACT? Do you know which test is right for you?

Colleges accept both tests equally, so the choice is up to you! Here's what you need to know to compare the exams.




Why Take It

Colleges use SAT scores for admissions and merit-based scholarships.

Colleges use ACT scores for admissions and merit-based scholarships.

Test Structure

·         Math

·         Reading

·         Writing and Language


Essay (Optional)

·         Math

·         Reading

·         English

·         Science

Essay (Optional)


·         3 hours (without essay)

·         3 hours, 50 minutes (with essay)

·         2 hours, 55 minutes (without essay)

·         3 hours, 40 minutes (with essay)


5 reading passages

4 reading passages



1 science section testing your critical thinking skills (not your specific science knowledge)



·         Arithmetic

·         Algebra I & II

·         Geometry, Trigonometry and Data Analysis


·         Arithmetic

·         Algebra I & II

·         Geometry and Trigonometry


Some math questions don't allow you to use a calculator.

You can use a calculator on all math questions.


Optional. The essay will test your comprehension of a source text.

Optional. The essay will test how well you evaluate and analyze complex issues.

How It's Scored

Scored on a scale of 400–1600

Scored on a scale of 1–36




Which One Should You Take?

If you want a competitive college application, you need high test scores. If you want high test scores, you need to take the right test. Before we dive in, know this first:

You should focus your efforts on taking one test. You don’t get extra points for submitting two tests, but you’ll certainly harm yourself by taking both tests.

No matter which test you decide to take, my online system comes with full programs for the New SAT and ACT for less than $200. But picking the right test should come before any studying takes place.

Colleges use something called “the concordance table” to compare SAT and ACT scores. They don’t prefer one test to the other: they just like you to have the highest COMPARATIVE score possible. A 1600 on the New SAT is a 36 on the ACT – getting either score will give you the exact same quality application, and once you get one great score, you’re finished – there’s no point in getting two good scores! It’s like saying you’re 6 feet tall and ALSO 2 feet tall – they might be different numbers, but you’re saying the exact same thing. If you want to see how different scores compare to each other, you can use my free New SAT ACT score converter.

Your only job is to pick ONE test that’ll give you the best comparative score. It’s your job to pick the test that’ll give you the best score, focus all of your energy on it, and knock it out of the park.

With that in mind, the big question is: which one will get you the best comparative score?




The Differences between the New SAT and ACT

The New SAT, which launched on March 5th of 2016, is basically a carbon copy of the ACT – it was designed to be just that.

The two tests have far more commonalities than differences, so let’s list the few things that set them apart:

  • The New SAT doesn’t have a science section. The “science” section of the ACT is easy to master , and has nothing to do with science. But if you hate it, then the New SAT is your savior.
  • The essays are different. Both tests come with optional essays. The ACT essay asks you to come up with your own argument and support it – the New SAT essay asks you to evaluate an argument that someone else has already written for you. Neither is easier or harder – it’s just an issue of personal preference.
  • The New SAT has a few fill-in-the-blank math problems, and half of the math problems don’t allow calculator use. The ACT lets you use a calculator on all its math problems, and all the answers are multiple choice. The New SAT has a “with calculator” and “without calculator” section, and 13 of its problems force you to fill in your own answer. The “without calculator” problems aren’t difficult because they don’t require any difficult arithmetic, so it’s not that much of an issue.
  • The New SAT is far less “time intensive.” This is the big issue that really separates the two exams. The New SAT gives you far more time per problem, so it’s a much less intense testing experience. Alternatively, the ACT makes you go at a blisteringly fast pace. So if you need some more time to consider your answers, the New SAT is going to be your friend. If you can plow through questions and are super focused, then the ACT should be your exam of choice.

Aside from those differences, the tests are practically identical. The material tested is the same. The formatting is basically the same. They both test your knowledge of math, English grammar, and reading comprehension. They both take 3-4 hours to complete. And they both accomplish the same exact same goal: giving admissions officers to save time by tossing your application in the trash if your scores aren’t high enough before they ever look at it.

Because the New SAT lacks a science section and is less time intensive, it might seem like an obvious choice. But there’s something to keep in mind: the nature of competition.


Success Stories


Hot Programs



  ©Chandrabindu Student Consultancy.