ACT & SAT Exam Guides

tl;dr: The ACT and SAT exams are college admissions tests. Depending on the type of test-taker you are, one of them may be better to take. Preparing for them require both concept understanding and practice. Be sure to check out the resources below to help you study. Make sure to register before the registration deadline to avoid extra fees and reserve a spot at test locations near you. Good luck!

Read below for some information about the dates, scores, and prep for the two most widely-known college admissions standardized tests in the US.

🔀 What are the ACT & SAT exams?

The ACT Ⓡ (American College Test) and SAT Ⓡ (Scholastic Aptitude Test) are exams that high school students take as one factor for college admissions. Although some schools are phasing out standardized tests, many still use test scores as an important aspect of admissions. Schools that don't consider the SAT or ACT are called test-optional schools. Those schools let students decide whether they want to submit test scores with their application. That means these schools will consider scores if they are submitted, but focus on other factors that are better predictors of success in college. Crimson Education has a list of every school going test-optional in the 2021-2022 school year.

Before determining which test you want to choose, here are some basics. Remember, neither test hold more or less weight than the other. However, it might be best to look at the average ACT or SAT score of students at a certain college to see a benchmark of where you should be.

ACT/SAT Basics

  • 2 hrs 55 mins without writing
  • 3 hrs 35 mins with writing
Comparison ACT SAT
Total Time 3 hrs (the essay is discontinued)
Order of Sections English, Math, Reading, Science, Writing (optional) Reading, Writing and Language, Math No-Calculator, Math Calculator
Time Per Section 45 mins, 60 mins, 35 mins, 35 mins, optional 40 mins respectively 65 mins, 35 mins, 25 mins, 55 mins respectively
Number of Questions 75 questions, 60 questions, 40 questions, 40 questions, 1 optional essay respectively 52 questions, 44 questions, 20 questions, 38 questions respectively
Scoring Range 1-36. The final score is the average of the four section scores. The writing section scale is 2-12 and doesn't count towards the final score. 400-1600. The Reading & Writing and Math sections use a scale of 200-800. Those scores are combined for the final score.
Official Site ACT SAT

⏰ How much time will I have?

If you perform better on tests with more time, then the SAT is the better option for you. On average, each question on the SAT has more time than on the ACT. If you were to spend the same amount of time on each question, the chart shows the time per question:

Time Per Question

Section ACT SAT
Reading 53 sec / question 75 sec / question
ACT English 36 sec / question N / A
SAT Writing / Language N/A 48 sec / question
Math (calculator) 60 sec / question 87 sec / question
Math (non-calculator) N/A 75 sec / question
Science 53 sec / question N/A

There are a few key differences between the ACT and the SAT. The ACT has around 1 minute to finish each math problem in the math section. Although this might seem like a significant amount of time, it passes by quickly. The SAT, however, has 87 seconds on the math with a calculator section and 75 seconds on the math section without a calculator. This might not seem like a large time difference, but every second matters.

🤷 What's on the test?

Each test has its own type of content. For example, ACT's reading is relatively more straightforward since it has less time. However, it requires you to read through the passages and answer questions fast. Because of that, if you are someone who needs more time to process content and questions (especially with reading), the SAT may be a better option.

Test Content

Topics ACT SAT
Reading Key Ideas and Details, Craft and Structure Use of Evidence, Vocabulary, History and Science Analysis
Math Algebra, Functions, Geometry, Statistics and Probability, Integrating Skills, Modeling Heart of Algebra, Problem Solving and Data Analysis, Passport to Advanced Math, Additional Topics in Math
Science Data Interpretation, Scientific Investigation, Evaluation of Models, Inferences N/A
English/Writing and Language Production of Writing, Knowledge of Language, Conventions of English, Optional Writing Test (essay) Use of Evidence, Vocabulary History, and Science Analysis, Expression

🙋‍♀️ Which test should I take?

It's important to take a practice test for each, then decide which fits you better. Because of the way people learn, there is no one right answer. The main difference between the ACT and SAT is that the ACT only has one math section but has an additional science section. If you enjoy reading science passages, you may want to try out the SAT! Taking a practice test for each (around 3 hours) will make a big difference in the long run because you'll be maximizing your time—focusing on the test that suits you as a test-taker and learner better.

The ACT might be better than the SAT if...

  • You are a fast reader who can comprehend the material well.
  • You are good at statistics and interpreting charts and data.
  • You are better at doing math with a calculator.
  • You like tests to be more straightforward and simple.

The SAT might be better than the ACT if...

  • You can comprehend complex reading passages and retain the information.
  • You are good at math without a calculator and know concepts well.
  • You can find tricks and traps within the test.
  • You are good at reading and vocabulary words.

📚 How do I prep for the test?

Standardized tests all follow a similar format. You should not expect anything different from your practice tests. Taking past released tests and tests from the College Board/ACT will allow you to be familiar with the difficulty of the test, but if you want to amp up the difficulty, you can get test prep books such as Princeton Review and Barron's. Because of the way standardized tests work, it's truly important to just keep practicing and understanding your mistakes. Some will write their mistakes in a notebook and write how they could avoid that mistake. Since questions on standardized tests follow a similar format, your mistakes may repeat. That's why the writing mistakes method is effective.

All in all, it's important to both get concepts set and practice tests done. In the table below, we have included many SAT/ACT resources for you to look through.

SAT & ACT Test Prep

Test Name Topics Link
SAT College Readiness SAT Practice questions ~ 10 full length practice tests
SAT The Critical Reader SAT Reading, Writing, and Essay sections
SAT Erik the Red SAT Math, Subject Test Math LEVEL 1 & LEVEL 2
SAT Khan Academy SAT practice questions
SAT Crack SAT SAT free, official, old SAT practice tests (with answer keys)
ACT Official ACT Official ACT Practice Questions
ACT Varsity Tutors Free practice tests, complete with detailed performance reports
ACT McGraw-Hill Online practice tests with explanations for every question
ACT Crack ACT Practice tests
ACT 4Tests Free, online practice exams.
ACT Grammar Bytes Resource for grammar review for the ACT English test.

🧮 What is my ACT score in SAT terms, and vice versa?

Use the score conversion table in the following toggle list to compare your ACT and SAT scores as well as the percentile.

Score Conversion

ACT SAT Percentile (ACT + SAT 2020)
36 1570-1600 100
35 1530-1560 99
34 1490-1520 99
33 1450-1480 97
32 1420-1440 96
31 1390-1410 94
30 1360-1380 92
29 1330-1350 90
28 1300-1320 88
27 1260-1290 85
26 1230-1250 82
25 1200-1220 78
24 1160-1190 74
23 1130-1150 70
22 1100-1120 65
21 1060-1090 60
20 1030-1050 54
19 990-1020 48
18 960-980 42
17 920-950 36
16 880-910 30
15 830-870 24
14 780-820 17
13 730-770 11
12 690-720 6
11 650-680 2

😁 When should I register?

Congrats on deciding to take the test! Below is a table of all the tests available during the 2021-22 school year. Make sure to register before the registration deadline to avoid extra fees and reserve spots at test locations near you. Additionally, check with your guidance office to see when your school offers the SAT, if applicable, as that test would be mandated and free of cost.

Register for the ACT!

Register for the SAT!

📅 What are the test dates?

Test Test Date Registration Deadline Late Registration Deadline
Dec SAT December 4, 2021 November 4, 2021 November 23, 2021
Dec ACT December 11, 2021 November 5, 2021 November 19, 2021
Feb ACT February 12, 2022 January 7, 2022 January 21, 2022
Mar SAT March 12, 2022 February 11, 2022 March 1, 2022
Apr ACT April 2, 2022 February 25, 2022 March 11, 2022
May SAT May 7, 2022 April 8, 2022 April 26, 2022
June SAT June 4, 2022 May 5, 2022 May 25, 2022
June ACT June 11, 2022 May 6, 2022 May 20, 2022
July ACT July 16, 2022 June 17, 2022 June 24, 2022

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