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SAT vs ACT, Which One Should You Take?

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions!

Now that you are about to finish high school, you still have one hurdle left before you can move on to college—the college entrance standardized test.  You have three options, fortunately, when it comes to this dilemma: Either you take The SAT, take the ACT or just take them both.

Related Topic: Free ACT Math Practice Tests

Just Blindly Picking One Is A Bad Idea


You may be asking, why not just pick one and go with it? Well, the truth is you can do that, but it’s a bad idea for the reason that these tests are so different from each other both in format and in focus. In fact, a particular student may do well in SAT and do badly in the ACT or vice versa. If you want to improve your chance of getting a high score, you have to know which of these tests will be the right fit for you.  This article will tackle those differences to help guide you in choosing between ACT and SAT.

Related Topic: SAT Registration

Test Structure

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SAT and ACT  offer mostly the same sections now that SAT has been restructured, but there are still some differences.  They both have a math section, a reading section and both offer language sections ( writing and languages for SAT and  English for ACT). They also now offer optional essay tests that do not affect your main score.

The differences, on the other hand, are few, but important. First, ACT offers a science section while SAT does not. It is important to consider this in choosing between ACT and SAT. If science is your forte, the science section will add significantly to your ACT  score. On the other hand, if you are not very knowledgeable at science, it will drag down your ACT score and thus ACT is a better choice for you.

Another difference lies in the focus of the Math Section.  ACT Math covers more topics than SAT does. While SAT focuses on algebra and data analysis, ACT  covers logarithms, graphs of trig functions, and matrices. Also, many of ACT Math questions deal with geometry and trigonometry. Finally, ACT lets you use calculators for all math questions while SAT only lets you use calculators on some questions.  So, again, if you are good at math, then you’d be okay with both ACT and SAT, but if you are not confident with your math Skills take the SAT.

More review materials: Free Practice Tests for ACT Science 

Number Of Questions And Time To Answer Them

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ACT has more questions than the SAT, that is because it has more sections.  SAT also gives more time for answering each question than ACT. So If you don’t like working under extreme pressure, you should look into taking the SAT. Here is the breakdown:

SAT Sections

  •       Reading: 65 mins, 52 Questions
  •       Writing and Language: 35 mins, 44 questions
  •       Math No Calculator: 25 mins, 20 questions
  •       Math Calculator: 55 mins,  38 questions
  •       Essay (optional): 50 mins, 1 essay

ACT Sections

  •       English: 45 mins, 75 questions
  •       Math: 60 mins, 60 questions
  •       Reading: 35 mins, 40 questions
  •       Science: 35 mins, 40 questions
  •       Writing (optional): 40 mins, 1 essay

You may think that hands down, SAT is better because it has fewer questions but more time allotment, but hold your horses for a bit there, because there is an equalizer.  Most people tend to spend a lot of time solving math problems without using a calculator. So that SAT Math section that bans calculators may also take a lot of your time. So unless you are good with mathematics, both tests are equally difficult.

Related Topic: 2019 – 2022 SAT Test Dates for US and International Students


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SAT and ACT differ in their scoring systems. First, the total score you can get in SAT ranges from 400- 1600, while in Sat the range is only 1-36. But that is not the only difference, the way scores are calculated are also different.

For ACT, a scale of 1-36 is used for each section. Then your four section scores are averaged and the result is your total score. For the optional ACT writing section, a scale of  2-12 is used in judging your essay. The Essay test question will not count toward your final score.

On the other hand, SAT uses a scale of 200-800 for both the Math and Evidence-based reading and writing sections. And the scaled score for both sections is combined for a total score. As for the SAT optional essay test, you will receive 3 scores for each dimension—reading, writing, and analysis – all of which will range from 2 to 8.

Related Topic: Free English Practice Tests 


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ACT and SAT also vary slightly in pricing. ACT charges $46.00 for regular test and $62.50 for the ACT with writing test.  On the other hand SAT charges $47.50 for the regular test and $64 if Essay test is included. These fees do not include additional fees that depend on your specific situation.

So there you have it, these are pretty much the major differences between the SAT and ACT.  Use the information here to decide which test to take based on your skills and talents. Just make sure that you have weighed every pros and cons for each test before deciding to register for one.

No matter which tests you choose or you choose to take both, taking SAT practice tests or ACT practice tests will help you.

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