A comparison of every student's worst nightmare: the SAT and ACT.

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Gayatri Rajamony, Staff Assisstant

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At first glance, the SAT and the ACT aren’t all that different. They’re both standardized tests used in most public schools, catered towards juniors and seniors, and accepted by all colleges and universities in the United States.


When you look closer, however, you’ll find that the content of the tests is different. The SAT takes 3 hours (3 hours and 50 minutes if including the optional Essay portion) while the ACT takes 2 hrs and 55 minutes (plus 40 minutes if taking ACT with writing).


In fact, there are three key differences:





The SAT has two sections: Math and Evidence-Based Reading and Writing, plus an optional third Essay section. Within these two main sections, there are a couple sub-sections. The Math section is composed of a calculator and no calculator section. The Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section contains a reading section and a writing and language section.


The ACT has four sections: English, Reading, Math, and Science, plus an optional Writing portion.


The main difference is that the ACT includes a Science section, whereas the SAT does not. The SAT does test these concepts throughout the test (via charts and graphs in the passages), but it doesn’t devote an entire section to them.


The ACT also allows calculator usage on the entire Math section, while the SAT does not. The no calculator section also puts more emphasis on reasoning based questions, rather than arithmetic based questions.





The scoring range for the SAT is 400-1600. The Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and Math sections both use a scale of 200-800 and the scores are added for the total score. The essay is scored by two different people. They grade each category of the essay (reading, analysis, and writing) on a scale of 1-4 and the two scores from each aspect is added to give three separate scores between 2 and 8 for each category. It does not count towards your final score.


The scoring range for the ACT is 1-36. Your score is the average of your four section scores. Every ACT essay is scored by two different people on a scale of 1-6 on four different categories of the essay for a total score of 12 in each category. These scores are then averaged to give you one score from 2-12.




The ACT and SAT Math sections both put emphasis on algebra, but the ACT also tests geometry, matrices, graphs of trig functions, and logarithms. Some of these concepts aren’t tested on the SAT at all. The SAT also gives you a diagram of mathematical formulas to use on the test.


Essay portions on both tests are also different. The SAT’s essay prompts involve the dissection of the author’s argument with evidence and reasoning. The ACT, however, gives you a short passage dealing with an issue and asks them to analyze the different perspectives. The main difference is that on the SAT you must remain objective, but on the ACT test-takers may give their own opinions. On the SAT you need analysis and reading comprehension skills, while on the ACT you need to be able to compare and contrast perspectives.


The other factors are very similar. The costs are around the same (with the ACT costing $46.00 without Writing and $62.50 with Writing and the SAT costing $47.50 without Essay and $64.50 with Essay). Texas doesn’t require either test, but some colleges require the essay or writing portion of the test, so take that into consideration before taking either test. Be sure to study for the test beforehand, and good luck!


Works Cited:

Muniz, Hannah. “ACT vs. SAT: 11 Key Differences to Help You Pick the Right Test.”

PrepScholar, 25 June 2018, 12 PM,


“SAT Essay Scoring.” SAT Suite of Assessments, 12 Mar. 2018,


Sawyer, Art. “SAT Essay Scores Explained.” Compass Education Group, 11 Oct. 2017,


“Standardized Test Close-Up.” Flickr, 18 Apr. 2012,



Staffaroni, Laura. “(Updated) ACT Essay Scoring: Completely Explained.” PrepScholar, 13 June

2018, 9 AM,


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