SAT vs. ACT: What is the Difference & Which One is Right For You?

By Subhashri Roy Updated On - Jun 28, 2021 05:30 PM

Wondering how the SAT or ACT are different or if they are different at all? Check out a detailed comparison of the two most popular tests attempted by students applying to foreign universities.

Each year, the scores of either the ACT or SAT or both lets nearly 4 million students worldwide transition to college or university. With the increase in the number of students appearing for these standardized tests, many often find themselves in a quandary as to which tests amongst would be ideal for them.

Both the SAT and ACT have been adopted by thousands of higher education institutions not only in the United States but also in countries like the UK, Canada, Australia and more. 

Although there is no advantage of taking one test over the other, it is important that you have a fair idea of the differences between the two and identify which test would suit you and your strengths the best. This article breaks down the same along with answering some common questions related to them. 

Over 1200 US Colleges and Universities Keep SAT/ACT Requirement Optional 51 US Universities Dropped ACT/ SAT Requirement for Fall 2021

SAT vs ACT: A Quick Overview

Given below are the basic points of comparison between the SAT and ACT. Have a look at it to get a fair idea of the two:

Particulars

ACT

SAT

Why Is it Administered?

To check the readiness of the high school students for admissions 

Adopted by the United States for admissions to universities and colleges

Full Form American College Testing SAT Reasoning Test

Conducting Body

ACT Inc. 

College Board on behalf of Educational Testing Service (ETS)

Mode of Exam 

Both Paper- and Computer-based

Paper-based 

Total Time

2 hrs 55 mins without Writing

3 hrs 35 mins with Writing

3 hrs without Essay

3 hrs 50 mins with Essay (Discontinued)

Sections

English

Math

Reading

Science

Writing (optional)

Reading

Writing and Language

Math

Essay (optional)

Time Per Section

English: 45 mins

Math: 60 mins

Reading: 35 mins

Science: 35 mins

Writing (optional): 40 mins

Reading: 65 mins

Writing and Language: 35 mins

Math Calculator: 55 minutes

Math No Calculator: 25 minutes

Essay (optional): 50 mins (Discontinued)

Total Number of Questions

English: 75 questions

Reading: 40 questions

Maths: 60 questions

Science: 40 questions

Writing (optional): 1 Question

Reading: 52 questions

Math Calculator: 38 questions

Math No Calculator: 20 questions

Writing and Language: 44 questions

Essay (optional): 1 essay (Discontinued)

Fee

$52 without Writing

$68 with Writing

Without Essay- $49.50 + Non-US Regional Fee ($49)

With Essay- $64.50 + Non-US Regional Fee ($49)

Who Accepts Scores?

Accepted by all colleges and universities in the US and other countries

Accepted by over 800 universities in the US, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, etc.

Scoring

Total score range: 1-36

Total score range: 400-1600

Scores Released Within

2 Weeks

1-2 Weeks

Top Participating Universities

See the Full List

See the Full List

Latest UpdateSAT Subject Tests and Essay Discarded

SAT Vs ACT: Key Differences in Detail

Time Allotted to Each Question

The SAT offers more time to answer each question, compared to the ACT. There is at least a difference of 10 seconds between time per question in the exams — the SAT giving more time per question than the ACT. The table added below breaks the same down into all the sections

Section

SAT

ACT

Reading

75 sec/question

53 sec/question

Math

No Calculator: 75 sec/question

Calculator: 87 sec/question

60 sec/question

ACT English/SAT Writing

48 sec/question

36 sec/question

Science

-

53 sec/question

The SAT Does Not Have a Science Section

If you think that Science is not your strong suit, then you must take the SAT as it does not include a Science section like the ACT. However, the SAT may test your scientific knowledge under any of its sections in the form of passages, data, or charts.

The ACT, on the other hand, has a Science section that you would be required to complete in 35 minutes. In addition, the weightage of the Science section would also be equal to that of its reading section. 

The Math Section

The major point of contradiction between the two tests is that the SAT Math section is divided into two portions: Math Test–Calculator and Math Test–No Calculator, unlike the ACT Math section. 

The SAT tests your problem-solving skills in all sorts of situations revolving around your college math, science, and social science courses, the jobs you do and your personal life. To the contrary, the math section in the ACT is aimed at testing the mathematical skills that you have gathered up to the beginning of the 12th standard.

Frequency of Test

As in 2020-21

ACT

SAT 

September, October, April, June, July

August, September, October, December, March, March, May, June

Also Read: Indian Students Moving Towards Less-Impacted Countries Amid Covid-19

Difficulty Level

The difficulty levels of both tests are somewhat similar. That being said, it would significantly depend on what your weaknesses and strengths are. For instance, if you are confident that you can score well in Science, then the ACT is certainly the right fit for you. 

Again, as mentioned earlier, the SAT gives you more time for each question under each section. 

Essay Content

In the SAT, the writing assignment will ask you to analyse a text and explain how the writer makes an argument to persuade an audience. The same shall be supported by evidence from the given passage and completed within 50 minutes. 

The ACT writing test will be 40 minutes long consisting of one prompt. What you would be asked to do here is read the prompt and write an essay explaining your own stand on the given issue. It will be scored on the basis of the perspective you build and express in the essay. 

Length

The duration of the SAT is longer than the ACT, at three hours and 50 minutes with the essay and three hours without the essay. On the other hand, the ACT is three hours and 35 minutes long with the writing section, and two hours and 55 minutes without the essay. Given below is the section-wise distribution of time: 

ACT

SAT

English: 45 mins

Math: 60 mins

Reading: 35 mins

Science: 35 mins

Writing (optional): 40 mins

Reading: 65 mins

Writing and Language: 35 mins

Math Calculator: 55 minutes

Math No Calculator: 25 minutes

Essay (optional): 50 mins

Which is the Right Test for You?

What is important to understand is that no institution would favour the scores of ACT over that of SAT or vice versa. The purpose of both the tests is the same, which is to check the readiness for admission to colleges/universities. 

The syllabus of the tests would have a different impression on each student. The best way to learn which exam would be ideal for you and your abilities is by taking practise tests of both the  SAT and ACT. 

Also Read: Canada to Welcome Over 4,00,000 Immigrants Every Year Between 2021-2023

Need Assistance in Preparing for Study Abroad Entrance Exam?

Should I take the Optional Essay?

The optional essay included in both the SAT and ACT does have an impact on your admissions. A great number of higher education institutions across the world choose to review individual essays to select students or make course placement decisions.

Nevertheless, many universities do not require the scores of optional essays and hence it has been made optional by administrators of both the tests. 

Note:  SAT Subject Tests and Essay is Discarded officially by College Board

Should I Take Both SAT and ACT?

Taking both the tests comes with a number of advantages. Find out what the advantages are:

  • Submitting scores of both the tests gives universities more information about you. 

  • You can make an informed decision while sending your scores to colleges and choosing the one that shows your strengths more.

  • Many US colleges or universities offer scholarships on the basis of scores of both ACT and SAT.

  • Some institutions accept scores of both the tests, which allows you more flexibility in case you score low in one of the subject tests.

  • Taking both the tests definitely makes way for more options and eventually decide on which university to say ‘Yes’ to.

Learn More About the SAT and ACT:

SAT Scores

How to Prepare for the SAT

SAT Sample Papers

SAT Exam Centres

How to Apply for the SAT

How to Apply for the ACT

ACT Scores

How to Prepare for the ACT

ACT Sample Papers

ACT Exam Centres

ACT Syllabus

SAT Syllabus

In case you have further queries about the ACT or SAT, please write to us at abroad@collegedekho.com. 

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