Should I take the SAT or ACT?

Most universities accept both SAT scores and ACT scores — there is absolutely no added advantage in taking one test over the other. The purpose of both tests is similar – to have a standardized score to measure college readiness. When deciding which test to take, students often want to know which one is ‘easier’. Unfortunately, both tests are designed to be tricky, and the level of comfort for each test depends on the student. So, here’s our best advice: Familiarize yourself with the requirements of both tests and take the test you tend to score better in.

Section and Content

The ACT includes 4 sectionsEnglish, Math, Reading and Science. The SAT also includes 4 sectionsReading, Writing and Language, Math without a Calculator and Math with a Calculator. Both tests also include an optional essay. From this section breakdown, it is evident that the content for both tests is largely similar except for the inclusion of a science section in the ACT. So, if you’re a science-inclined person, then the ACT might appeal to your more with their science-specific section. Of course, the SAT also includes some science related passages, however, the emphasis is a lot lower.

Moreover, the SAT has a no-calculator section, so if you are entirely not comfortable with the idea of doing math without a calculator, you may gravitate towards the ACT. The English sections are largely similar for both, however, the SAT does place a greater emphasis on testing challenging vocabulary.

When it comes to the essay section, the requirements vary between the tests. The ACT essay asks for your personal opinion and you are expected to think of examples to support your claims. On the other hand, the SAT essay requires you to read a passage and analyze the author’s argument through the use of evidence, reasoning, or stylistic and persuasive devices.

Testing Time

Overall testing for the ACT and SAT are roughly similar – 3 hours 35 minutes and 3 hours 50 minutes respectively (inclusive of the optional essay for both tests). However, after taking into account the number of questions, this leaves an average of 1 minute and 10 seconds for answering each question on the SAT. For the ACT, you’ll have about 49 seconds per question. So, if you prefer ample time for answering questions, the SAT may be more your speed. Alternatively, if you are someone who works well under pressure, then the ACT might be up your alley.

Scoring

For the ACT, scores are a composite ranging from 1-36, while the SAT is graded on a scale from 400-1600. In both tests, the essay score is separate from the overall score. Scores for the optional essay portion are given on a scale of 2-12 in the ACT, and 2-8 on the SAT. Neither test penalizes test takers for guessing as there is no negative marking for incorrect answers.

Alternatively, you can choose to take both tests and submit the higher score. Naturally, focusing on one standardized test would be more efficient, but if you have extra time to prepare, go for it! Just don’t feel pressured to do so, because there’s absolutely no need to register and attempt both tests.

Summary

 
SAT 
ACT 
Test Duration (Excluding breaks)3 hrs – Without Essay
3 hrs 50 mins – With Essay
2 hrs 55 mins – Without Essay
3 hrs 35 mins – With Essay
Sections
  1. Reading Test
  2. Writing & Language Test
  3. Math Test (No Calculator)
  4. Math Test (Calculator)
  5. Essay (Optional)
  1. English
  2. Math
  3. Reading
  4. Science
  5. Writing (Optional)
Time per section (minutes)/question (seconds)Reading Test – 65mins/75s
Writing & Language Test – 35mins/47s
Math Test (No Calculator) – 25mins/75s
Math Test (Calculator) – 55mins/86s
Essay (Optional) – 50mins
English Test – 45mins/36s
Math Test (Calculator) – 60mins/60s
Reading Test – 35mins/52s
Science Test – 35mins/52s
Writing (Optional) – 40mins
Questions per sectionTotal Questions – 154

Reading Test – 52
Writing & Language Test – 44
Math Test (No Calculator) – 20
Math Test (Calculator) – 38
Essay (Optional) – 1 Essay

Total Questions – 215

English Test – 75
Math Test – 60
Reading Test – 40
Science Test – 40
Essay (Optional) – 1 Essay

ScoringThe Reading + Writing and Math sections each use a scale of 200-800 and are combined for a total score (out of 1600).

The optional Essay does not count toward your final score.

Each section uses a scale of 1-36. Your total score (out of 36) is the average of your four section scores.

 

DifficultyTrickier Questions, More time per question, Math formulas providedDirect Questions, Less time per question, Math formulas not provided

If you want to get a hang of the test format, try to make time for a full-length SAT test or ACT test to see which test is more comfortable for you.