Comparison of SAT Versus ACT Test

What are the differences between the SAT & ACT Tests?

The SAT is based more on reasoning than content. The ACT is based more on content than reasoning.
Overall, the ACT requires students to do more work in a shorter period of time than the SAT does. The ACT also contains a science section, which will test students' ability to interpret graphs, figures, and diagrams. There is no penalty for incorrect answers on either exams.

ACT Reading SAT Critical Reading
40 questions in 35 minutes 52 questions in 65 minutes
  • 3-4 single passages and 0-1 dual passages
  • Does not include graphs, figures, and diagrams
  • Favors students who are good at synthesizing a lot of information in a short time as there is more reading than the SAT
  • 4 single passages and 1 dual passages
  • Includes graphs, figures, and diagrams
  • Often more manageable than the ACT reading; students rarely struggle to finish the SAT reading
ACT English (grammar) SAT Writing (grammar)
75 questions in 45 minutes 44 questions in 35 minutes
  • Edit and answer questions for five different passages
  • No graphs or charts included
  • Edit and answer questions for four passages
  • Emphasizes student's command of evidence, both verbal and graphical
ACT Math SAT Math
60 problems to solve in 60 minutes 38 problems to solve in 55 minutes
(Calculator Section)
20 problems to solve in 25 minutes
(No Calculator Section)
  • Can always use a calculator
  • Provides no reference formulas
  • Includes questions about equation of a circle and ellipse
  • Includes logarithms
  • Has a section where calculators are prohibited
  • Provides some geometric formulas for reference
  • Does not include formula of a circle or ellipse
  • Does not include logarithms
ACT Essay SAT Essay
1 essay topic in 40 minutes 1 essay topic in 50 minutes
  • The Essay section is optional and is not part of the composite score
  • Students critically engage with a topic and three provided perspectives/ways of thinking about the topic
  • Scored by two graders on a scale of 1-36
  • The Essay section is optional and is not part of the overall score
  • Students construct a rhetorical analysis of a provided source text
  • Scored by two graders on a scale of 6-24
ACT Science
40 questions in 35 minutes
  • Students must quickly analyze trends presented in graphs, tables, and figures
  • Asks questions about experimental design and results

Scoring of the SAT and ACT

At first, comparing SAT and ACT scores appears complicated. The scaled score on an SAT section ranges from 200 (lowest score) to 800 (perfect score). The scaled score on an ACT section ranges from 1 (lowest score) to 36 (perfect score).

The correct way to compare the two exams, however, is much simpler than comparing scaled scores. The important number is the percentile that corresponds with the scaled score. This will provide a true comparison of a student's performance on each exam.

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