SAT vs ACT: What’s the Difference?

Most students know what the SAT and ACT is. But do they know what distinguishes them?

Students should choose the test that's right for them.

Photo Courtesy of Shutterstock

Students should choose the test that's right for them. Photo Courtesy of Shutterstock

Megan Jun, Staff Writer

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Juniors and seniors are taking the SAT and/or ACT soon, but many are unaware of the difference between these two standardized tests. What exactly distinguishes the SAT from the ACT? Which test do colleges prefer? Is one harder than the other? These questions constantly invades the mind of a student taking one of these tests. So, what are the major differences between the SAT and ACT?

Let’s explore the basic differences between each first. First off, both tests have different time increments. The SAT takes three hours (plus 50 minutes with the optional essay) to complete; whereas, the ACT takes two hours and 55 minutes (plus 40 minutes with the optional essay). They also differ in length. The SAT has 154 questions while the ACT has 215 questions. Both tests are scored differently after completion. The SAT total score ranges from 400-1600, but the ACT composite score ranges from 1-36. The optional essay is scored separately. Of course, each exam requires payment; the SAT costs $47.50 ($64.50 with the essay), and $50.50 for the ACT ($67 with the essay). 

So what are the differences “inside” of the actual test? The sections on the SAT are reading, writing and language, math (no calculator), math (calculator), and an optional essay. The sections on the ACT are English, math, reading, science, and writing (optional). The SAT also gives formulas and references for math while the ACT does not. SAT’s math questions have four possible answers while ACT’s math questions have five. The style of questions for SAT and ACT varies. The SAT questions are evidence and context-based. This is used to see how students do in real-world problem solving and multi-step problem-solving. The ACT is more straightforward; although the questions may seem long, they are typically easy to decipher. 

Other differences between these two tests include range of difficulty and necessary math levels a student must have taken to complete the exam. Although it may seem like an impossible;e task, choosing between the ACT and SAT is simply a matter of assessing one’s strength. Before choosing which test to take, students should continue to research the differences and look at some SAT and ACT questions to figure out which test is best for them. Good luck to everyone taking the SAT or ACT.