ACT vs SAT: Which Should I Take?

tl;dr: To compare these two tests, the SAT and the ACT, the SAT is a 180-minute test with 4 sections: Reading, Writing, Math (No Calculator), Math (Calculator). Scoring out of 1600 with no guessing penalty. The ACT is a 175-minute test with 4 sections: Reading, English, Math, and Science. Scoring out of 36 with an average of individual section scores. For more information, visit the official ACT & SAT pages.

Preparing for a standardized test is crucial for achieving your target score and showcasing your ability to meet the workload of college. Before this step, choosing the right test for you is essential for achieving your personal best score.

The 2 main standardized tests offered in the US are the SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test) run by College Board and the ACT (American College Testing). While some colleges have begun adopting a test-optional policy due to discrepancies in the testing system as well as logistical issues from COVID-19, having a good score can boost your personal profile.

🤷 Comparing the SAT and the ACT

SAT Breakdown

180-minute test with 4 sections

Reading: 65 minutes | 52 questions

Tests reading comprehension abilities through 5 separate passages (4 single, 1 paired passage) across 3 different subjects (U.S. and World Literature, History/Social Studies, Science)

Writing: 35 minutes | 44 questions

Questions about grammar and vocabulary similar to a traditional editing and revising test

Math (No Calculator): 25 minutes | 20 questions (15 MCQ, 5 grid-ins)

Covers algebra I and II, geometry, and some basic precalculus

Math (Calculator): 55 minutes | 38 questions (30 MCQ, 8 grid-ins)

Same topics as Math (No Calculator) but allowed access to a test-approved calculator.

Scoring out of 1600 (800 Reading/Writing + 800 Math) with no guessing penalty

ACT Breakdown

175-minute test with 4 sections

Reading: 35 minutes | 40 questions

Tests reading comprehension abilities with direct information and inferences through 4 separate passages (3 long prose, 1 paired passage) covering 3 main content categories (key ideas and details, craft and structure, integration of knowledge and ideas)

English: 45 minutes | 75 questions

Covers English conventions, writing production, and language knowledge with choosing the best answer to match a specific context

Math: 60 minutes | 60 questions

Tests both reasoning abilities and directly taught mathematical skills in algebra I and II, geometry, trigonometry, and precalculus with a permitted calculator.

Science: 35 minutes | 40 questions

Measures mathematical, analytical, and scientific knowledge through questions focused on 3 content categories (interpretation of data, scientific investigation, evaluation of models) with supplemental stimuli

Scoring out of 36 (called the "Composite", this is the average of individual section scores: 36 Reading, 36 Writing, 36 Math, 36 Science)

For more comprehensive information, visit the ACT & SAT page.

Guide Outline


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