SAT vs ACT: Which Test is Right for You?


When applying for colleges, your Standardized Test scores play a significant role. However, knowing which test between SAT vs ACT to attempt can help you save a lot of time and energy. So, here’s what you need to consider before making a choice and giving the tests a go.

How does the SAT work?

The SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test) is a standardized test used by colleges and universities to evaluate a student’s readiness for college-level work. It measures a student’s critical thinking skills and knowledge in reading, writing, and mathematics.

This test consists of four sections: Reading, Writing and Language, Mathematics, and an optional Essay. The test lasts three hours, with an additional 50 minutes for the Essay if chosen. According to CollegeBoard, the SAT scores range between 400-1600. So the two sections – Evidence-based reading and writing and Mathematics sections – are each graded for 800. It also provides an infographic to show how college-ready students are. Moreover, there are subsection and cross-section scores provided. It is based on the number of questions answered that fall into these categories.

How does the ACT work?

The American College Test (ACT) is a standardized test used for college admissions in the United States and other countries. The ACT assesses students’ knowledge and skills in four core academic areas: English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science. These areas are intended to reflect the skills and knowledge students have acquired through their high school education and are considered essential for success in college and beyond.

The test comprises five sections: English, Mathematics, Reading, Science, and an optional Writing section. According to the ACT, the ACT scores range between 1-36 for four sections each; the total score is their average. All questions are multiple-choice, and the test lasts two hours and fifty-five minutes. Opting for the Writing section gives you forty additional minutes to write an essay based on a prompt.

What are the key differences: SAT vs ACT?

The most obvious difference between the SAT and ACT is the science section. The ACT has a compulsory Science section that evaluates a student’s ability to interpret, analyze, and evaluate scientific information and data. However, the SAT does not test science directly; instead, it refers to scientific concepts in the Reading and Writing sections.

Another difference between the two tests is the math section. The SAT Mathematics section is split into two parts, with the first prohibiting calculator use. Both tests cover a broad range of math topics, but the ACT has more geometrical-based questions. Similarly, the SAT has fewer trigonometric questions than the ACT but in-depth, concept-wise questions.

Or, to put it very simply:

Science knowledge not directly testedHas a compulsory science section
Math concepts are tested in-depth.Tests a general understanding of how to approach math problems.
Range of topics covered is lessCovers a broad range of topics
Less Trigonometry than ACTMore Geometry than SAT
So how do I make my decision?

You have an edge with the ACT if you are more confident in your scientific knowledge. However, if your math skills are good, the SAT can better match. The reading and writing (language) based tests for both the SAT and ACT are similar. You can also opt for the most popular test in your state.

If you think that some colleges prioritize one test over another, that is not true. Most colleges in the US accept both the SAT and the ACT scores, but they do not prioritize one over the other. So making a choice really falls on your own estimation of your skills. Assess your strengths and weaknesses, compare them to what these tests offer, and then make your choice. Or you can take a practice test for both and see which suits you better. Whatever you choose, your prep for one test also benefits the other. Just have confidence and take your best shot at the test that fits you best!


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