• P.O. Box 2061 Princeton, New Jersey 08543
1.609.608.6258 Contact Us
December 1, 2018

Should You Take the SAT or the ACT?



The SAT and ACT are standardized tests that serve the same purpose. Both are used by colleges in the United States for admission and merit-based scholarships. They have many similarities and many differences.  The SAT was established in 1926. The ACT developed in 1989, and surpassed the SAT in total test takers in 2011. There are some fundamental differences. The ACT assesses how well the test taker mastered the material learned in high school, and the ability to succeed at the college level. The SAT assesses how well the student analyzes and solves problems, as well as college readiness. Which one is right you? Let’s take a look.


Big Picture:



  • Length:


    • Both tests are about the same length, about 3 hours, with the optional essay adding an additional 45 minutes. The essay does not count in the total score.



  • Content:


    • Both tests cover Reading, Arithmetic, Algebra l, Algebra ll, Geometry, Trigonometry and an optional essay.
    • The SAT has 5 reading passages, one more than the ACT. The ACT, unlike the SAT, has a science section, probability and statistics.



  • Scoring Scale:


    • SAT: (400 – 1600)
    • ACT: (1 – 36)
    • Both tests use “rights-only” scoring. You are not penalized for incorrect answers.



  • Key Differences:


    • The SAT gives more time to answer each question than the ACT. So if you want more time per question, the SAT may suite you better.
    • The ACT has a science section. If you loathe science, you may prefer the SAT. Though is does cover scientific concepts.
    • The ACT allows you to use a calculator throughout the math section. The SAT has both a calculator allowed and a non-calculator allowed math section.
    • There is more algebra on the SAT, more trigonometry on the ACT.
    • The SAT does contain a math formulas Reference Guide, unlike the ACT.
    • Math corresponds to 25% of the ACT and 50% of the SAT. If math is your strength, the SAT is a better choice.
    • Evidence-supported questions are prevalent on the SAT, and absent on the ACT. Thus, if you are proficient at finding areas in the text to support your answers, the SAT may work better for you.
    • On the SAT, the questions follow a chronological sequence, following the order in which the content appears in the text.
    • Regarding the optional essay, on the SAT must use evidence and reasoning to answer the questions. On the ACT, you must read the analysis and draw an opinion.



  • Summary:


    • Both the SAT and ACT perform the same function, to test college readiness. However, their approaches are fundamentally different. If you feel you need more time per question, love math in particular Algebra, are great at finding evidence-supporting material in the passages, then the SAT is for you.
    • If you love science, prefer using a calculator over a math formula reference guide, dislike math, and prefer giving your opinion over critical analysis, the ACT is for you.