ACT® vs SAT®: Which Test Should You Take?

Side-by-Side Comparison of Format, Scoring, and Content

Both the ACT and the SAT are nationally administered standardized tests that help colleges evaluate candidates. All schools accept either test interchangeably. So as you begin to think about college and creating the best application package possible, your admissions plan should begin with the question, "Which test should I take?" Here’s how to compare them.

Compare the tests so you can decide which you should take

Test Structure and Format ACT SAT
Length 3 hours, 35 min (with optional Writing Test) 3 hours, 50 minutes (with optional Essay)
Structure 4 sections (English, Math, Reading, Science) plus an Optional Essay (or Writing Test) 4 sections (Evidence-Based Reading, Writing, Math without a calculator, Math with a calculator) plus an Optional Essay
Scoring ACT SAT
Score Composite of 1-36 based on average scores from the 4 test sections 4 scores of 1-36 for each test
Optional Writing Test score of 1-36 (not included in the overall)
Score is out of 1600: 800 for Math, 800 for Evidence-Based Reading and Writing Optional Essay receives a separate score
Subscores and insight scores available
Wrong Answer Penalty No penalty for wrong answers No penalty for wrong answers
Sending Score History You decide which score is sent Not yet known
Content ACT SAT
Reading Reading Comprehension Reading Comprehension
Words in Context
Evidence Based
Math Arithmetic
Algebra II
Data Analysis
Algebra II
Science Analysis
Basic Content
Problem Solving
Science Insight Score

Writing and Language The Essay: Writing Test

English Test: Writing & Language multiple-choice questions
Tests grammatical and rhetorical skills
Essay Optional final section
40 minutes
Not included in composite score
Topic presents conversations around contemporary issues
Optional final section
50 minutes
Separate score
Tests Reading, Analysis, and Writing Skills
Topic comes from a 750-word passage to be read on Test Day

SAT vs. ACT: Understanding the Differences

There is no significant content difference between the ACT and the SAT, though the ACT’s math section is slightly more rigorous in testing complex math comprehension. If you are a student who does well in math, you might want to consider the ACT.

If you are a student who needs more time when taking an exam, then you might consider the SAT, since it clocks in at 3 hours and 50 minutes, while the ACT is allotted 3 hours and 35 minutes for testing.

The best way to determine which test best fits your test-taking style, test the tests themselves! See which exam fits you, take a sample ACT and SAT here.

Or, take the quick diagnostic test to the right and see which exam is right for you.

In addition to comparing test structure and content, it’s also important to think about your college admissions timeline when making your exam decision.

See a list of upcoming current SAT test dates here.