Difference between the ACT and SAT

The ACT is an achievement test, measuring what a student has learned in school. The SAT is more of an aptitude test, testing reasoning and verbal abilities.

The ACT has up to 5 components: English, Mathematics, Reading, Science, and an optional Writing Test. The SAT has only 3 components: Critical Reasoning, Mathematics, and a required Writing Test.

The comparison below helps making the choice easier



  • SAT is a reasoning test
  • Test format - Critical Reading: 2, 25-min sections and 1, 20-min section; Math: 2, 25-min sections and 1, 20-min section; Writing: 1, 25-min essay, 1, 25-min section, and 1, 10-min section
  • Content covered is reading, vocabulary, grammar & usage, writing, and math. The questions are often tricky and can be phrased in ways that make them difficult to decipher
  • Math, Critical Reading, and Writing scores will each range between 200-800; total SAT score ranges between 600-2400
  • There is a penalty for wrong answer and you lose ¼ of a point for incorrect answers (except on the grid-in math questions)
  • The questions increase in difficulty level as you move through that question type in a section
  • The SAT test is popular with private schools and schools on the east and west coasts; however, every four-year college in the US accepts SAT scores
  • It is offered seven times per year: January, March or April, May, June, October, November, December and registration deadline is typically about four weeks before the test date.


  • ACT is a content based test.
  • Test format - English: 1, 45-min section; Math: 1, 60-min section; Reading: 1, 35-min section; Science: 1, 35-min section; Writing: 1, 30-min essay (optional)
  • Content covered is grammar & usage, math, reading, science reasoning, and writing (optional). The questions are straightforward and may be long but are usually less difficult to decipher.
  • English, Math, Reading, and Science scores will each range between 1-36. Composite ACT score is the average of your scores on the four sections; ranges between 1-36
  • There is no penalty for wrong answers
  • The difficulty levels of the questions is random
  • The ACT test is popular with public schools and schools in the Midwest and south; however, every four-year college in the US accepts ACT scores
  • It is offered six times per year: February, April, June, September, October, December (note that some states offer the ACT as part of their state testing requirements; these tests are not administered on the national test dates) and the registration deadline is typically about five to six weeks before the test date


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