ACT vs SAT: What’s the Difference?June 23, 2022
Want to get into your dream school? You better start preparing. Standardized tests are an important component of the college admissions process. In fact, 1.5 million high school students from the Class of 2021 took the SAT at least once, and 1.3 million took the ACT.
Both the SAT and ACT measure your academic abilities and your potential for success in college. But which test is better for you? By understanding the differences between the ACT vs SAT, you can choose which exam to take.
What Is the Role of Standardized Tests?
When you apply to college, you’ll typically be asked to submit your high school transcripts, letters of recommendation, personal essays, and copies of your standardized test scores. Colleges usually accept the ACT and the SAT; both exam types are designed to test your readiness for college.
Standardized tests provide colleges with an objective way to compare students from different high schools and states. They give you a chance to showcase your academic abilities.
What is the ACT?
The ACT is a standardized exam accepted by most colleges and universities as part of student applications. The exam is made up of four multiple-choice sections, testing your understanding of English, math, reading, and science. There is also an optional writing section.
The ACT is scored on a scale of 1 to 36, with 36 being the highest possible score. The average ACT score is 21.
The ACT covers arithmetic, algebra I and II, geometry, trigonometry, and probability and statistics. It also has four reading passages and one science section to test your critical thinking skills.
What is the SAT?
The SAT covers a similar range of topics as the ACT, but with a slightly different focus. The SAT has three sections: reading, writing, and math. The SAT is scored on a scale of 400 to 1600, with 1600 being the highest possible score. The average SAT score is 1060.
The SAT is composed of five reading passages and questions about arithmetic, algebra I and II, geometry, trigonometry, data analysis, and language. Although a calculator is allowed for some questions, there are sections where you cannot use a calculator
What is the Difference Between the SAT and ACT?
Although the ACT and SAT are similar, there are some key differences between the two exams:
|Scoring||1 to 36||400 to 1600|
|Cost||$63 (no essay)
$88 (with essay)
|Time to Complete||2 hrs 55 mins (no essay)
3 hrs 40 mins (with essay)
- Essay: The SAT no longer has an essay portion, while the ACT has an optional essay you can complete.
- Science: The SAT doesn’t include any science questions. Although the ACT does have a science section, it’s designed to test your critical thinking skills rather than your knowledge of scientific concepts.
- Scoring: The ACT is scored on a scale of 1 to 36, while the SAT is scored on a scale of 400 to 1600.
- Cost: As of 2022, the base test price for the SAT is $60. The base price for the ACT is $63. However, if you want to complete the ACT with the essay portion of the exam, the cost is $88. In some cases, federal funding is available to assist with the costs.
- Length: The SAT takes three hours to complete. By contrast, the ACT can take significantly longer if you decide to complete the optional essay portion; the ACT with the essay portion takes three hours and 40 minutes to complete. If you don’t want to do the essay, the ACT takes two hours and 55 minutes.
- Administration: The SAT is administered by The College Board, while the ACT is run by ACT, Inc., a non-profit organization.
- State Requirements: In some states, high school students need to complete standardized testing to graduate. Which test you need to take is dependent on where you live.
|State Requirements for Standardized Test Completion|
|No Requirement||ACT Required||SAT Required|
ACT vs SAT: Which Is Better for You?
Now that you know the difference between the ACT and SAT exams, you can choose which is best for you. According to admissions counselors, colleges don’t really have a preference, so take the one that you perform best in — or both!
You can take practice exams to get an idea of how you’ll do on the test, but it’s also a good idea to contact your chosen schools and see if they have any preferences. For example, some programs may encourage you to complete the ACT essay portion to maximize your chances of getting accepted or earning a scholarship.
You can find free exam prep resources and online exams at ACT.org or CollegeBoard.org.