SAT vs. ACT: Understanding the Difference

SAT vs. ACT: Understanding the Difference

Scores from the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) or the American College Test (ACT) are widely accepted by universities, so many of them require their applicants to submit these results as part of the admissions process. You may be wondering how to choose between the ACT and the SAT.

The content, format, and grading schemes of each examination are distinct from one another. However, both are utilized to evaluate a student’s level of competence in the fundamentals of reading, writing, and arithmetic.

When applying to a four-year institution, most students are expected to take the SAT or ACT and achieve a certain score. A student’s standardized test scores are only one factor in the admissions decision, with varying weights given by various institutions.

In general, a student’s performance on standardized tests can be used to gauge their preparedness for college, guide course selection, and even inform their eligibility for merit-based financial aid.

Let’s dive into the differences between the two tests and how our tutoring experts at Groza Learning Center can help.

Table of contents:

  • Quick overview of SAT and ACT
  • What is SAT?
  • What is ACT?
  • SAT vs. ACT Format and Timing
  • How Do SAT Scores Compare to ACT Scores?
  • Where and When to Take the SAT or ACT
  • SAT and ACT Fees 
  • How do I submit test scores to schools?
  • Quick overview of SAT and ACT
  • Which test is right for you?
  • Let us help you get a good score

Quick overview of SAT and ACT

There are many parallels between the SAT and the ACT. Both exams are widely recognized by higher education institutions, and many use the results of one or both to award merit-based scholarships to incoming freshmen.

Reading, writing, and arithmetic are all tested similarly on both the SAT and the ACT. The reading, writing, and language portions of both exams consist solely of passage-based questions. Students’ performance in these sections is used to gauge their preparedness for college.

Blank or incorrect answers are not counted against students in either exam. You can earn points in either one for answering questions correctly.

  • Scales and intervals for scoring. Both the SAT and ACT have a wide range of possible scores, from 400 to 1600 and from 1 to 36, respectively.
  • Sections and layout of the test. The SAT tests students in reading comprehension, writing, language usage, calculator math, and standard math (no calculator). The ACT tests students in five subject areas: English, Math, Reading, and Science (optional essay).
  • Rule of the calculator. There is a portion of the SAT in which students are not permitted to use calculators. Takers of the ACT are permitted to use a calculator on all mathematics questions.
  • The time allotted and the number of questions on the exam. There should allocate three hours for taking the SAT. It takes two hours and 55 minutes to finish the ACT if you skip the optional essay, and three hours and 35 minutes if you do it.
  • Science. The SAT is lacking in the area of science in comparison to the ACT.
  • Mathematics. Comparatively, the ACT covers probability and statistics while the SAT covers data analysis. Both tests cover basic arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and trigonometry.

What is SAT?

The College Board is in charge of giving out the standardized test known as the SAT, which lasts for a total of three hours. This test is frequently utilized by educational institutions like colleges and universities as a component of their admissions procedures.


Five reading passages with two passages each and 52 multiple-choice questions make up the SAT reading section. A wide range of texts from the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, and history was used. This section of the exam must be finished in 65 minutes.

Writing and Language

Four different passages from the humanities, social sciences, history, and even careers make up the bulk of the writing and language portion of the test. Contents range from narratives to arguments to explanations.

The 11 multiple-choice questions that follow each passage can be roughly divided into two groups: Correction of sentence-level errors in word choice, structure, usage, grammar, and punctuation, and enhancement of the quality and expression of ideas. Participants have 35 minutes to finish this section of the exam.


Algebra, problem-solving, data analysis and other forms of advanced mathematics that require the manipulation of complex equations are all covered on the math test. Further topics, such as geometry and trigonometry, are used here. There will be a calculator-allowed section and a no-calculator section on the math exam.


The maximum possible score on the SAT is 1600. A report from the College Board in 2022 indicates that the median SAT score is 1050. No points will be deducted for wrong or missing answers.

What is ACT?

The ACT (American College Testing) is a standardized test that measures a student’s knowledge and understanding of the material in English, Math, Reading, and Science. The test is given in a pencil and paper format and consists of multiple-choice questions. 

The ACT is designed to assess the skills and knowledge that students have acquired throughout their high school education, making it an effective tool for measuring their preparedness for college.

The test provides comparative data to universities, allowing them to understand how well-prepared a student is in comparison to their peers. This information is used by universities to help make more informed decisions about which students to admit. 

It’s worth noting that the ACT is considered a more content-based test, which means that it tests students on their knowledge of specific subjects such as math, English, and science. This is in contrast to the SAT which is considered more of a reasoning test, which focuses more on testing a student’s reasoning and critical thinking skills. Students need to research and compare the two tests before deciding which one to take.


Reading tests your comprehension, your ability to draw valid conclusions from what you have read, and your capacity to integrate information from different sources into a cohesive whole. Examinees have 55 minutes to answer 40 questions in this section.


There is a total of 75 multiple-choice questions in the English section, and they cover topics like grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, and rhetoric. The time limit for this section of the exam is 45 minutes.


There are 60 multiple-choice questions on the math test, spanning topics in Algebra I, Algebra II, geometry, and trigonometry. There are no formulas provided at the beginning of the ACT math test, so it is essential to memorize the formulas you will need. The time limit for this section of the exam is 60 minutes.


A separate 35-minute timed section of the ACT is devoted to science, and it consists of 40 multiple-choice questions. Questions are based on readings, tables, graphs, summaries of studies, experiments, and contrasting points of view in the sciences. Earth and space sciences, including geology, meteorology, and astronomy, are also included.

SAT vs. ACT Format and Timing

SAT Format

The format of the SAT test is currently on paper, although the College Board announced that it will go digital this year in 2023. 

ACT Format

The first four sections of the ACT are multiple-choice. The test is administered on a computer at a designated testing center.

SAT Timing

Test-takers are allowed 3 hours and 50 minutes to complete the SAT exam, plus an extra 50 minutes for an optional essay.

The format of the test includes 5 sections: Reading, Writing, Math (with a calculator), Math (without a calculator), and an optional essay. Each section is scored separately, then the section scores are added together for a total score.

According to the College Board, this is the breakdown for timing and number of questions on the SAT:

  • Reading: 65-minute section with 52 questions
  • Writing and Language: 35-minute section with 44 questions
  • Math – No-Calculator: 25-minute section with 20 questions
  • Math – Calculator: 55-minute section with 38 questions
  • Essay (optional): 50 minutes, one essay

Breaks during the SAT exam

The SAT includes scheduled breaks which do not count toward the total test time of 180 minutes. There is a 10-minute break and a 5-minute break, plus a 2-minute break if you are taking the essay portion. 

ACT Timing

The ACT is composed of multiple-choice questions and takes approximately 2 hours and 55 minutes to complete (3 hours and 35 minutes with the optional Writing Test). The timing breakdown is as such:

  • English: 45 minutes with 75 questions
  • Math: 60 minutes with 60 questions
  • Reading: 35 minutes with 40 questions
  • Science: 35 minutes with 40 questions
  • Writing (optional): 40 minutes, one essay

Breaks during the ACT exam

During the test, students will only have one 10-minute break after the ACT math section. If the student opts to take the writing portion, they will get a 5-minute break after the ACT Science section.

How Do SAT Scores Compare to ACT Scores?

While most schools will recommend students take either the ACT or the SAT, taking both tests may be recommended when trying to decide between several colleges with different admissions requirements.

The SAT composite score is out of 1600 points while the ACT composite score is out of 36 points. To determine an SAT equivalent to your ACT score, you can use the following chart for a rough estimation:

SAT/ACT Score Equivalence Chart


1600 = 36











Where and When to Take the SAT or ACT

Where to take the SAT?

High school students may take SAT tests at designated testing centers. Testing centers are usually located at high schools, colleges, and universities. You may use the College Board’s Test Center Search database to find a testing center near you.

When to take the SAT?

Dates are scheduled throughout the year. and held at different schools and locations across the country on scheduled dates throughout the year.

Where to take the ACT?

Like the SAT, the ACT is administered at local schools, colleges, and universities. It may be administered at other designated testing centers as well.

When to take the ACT?

ACT test dates are held on one date in September, October, December, February, April, June, and July.

SAT and ACT Fees 

Is there a fee for taking the SAT?

As of 2023, the fee for taking the SAT is $60. There are additional fees to consider if you sign up late or need to reschedule your test. Fee waivers are available to low-income eligible students.

Is there a fee for taking the ACT?

The fee to take the ACT without the optional essay portion is $63. To take the full ACT with the writing portion is $88. There is a $25 fee for rescheduling the exam and a $36 late registration fee.

How do I submit test scores to schools?

How do I submit ACT test scores to schools?

Both the ACT and SAT allow you to send your score to up to four colleges of your choice. With the ACT, you must select these institutions at the time of test registration. To send additional scores is $18 per score.

Here’s a quick overview of SAT and ACT

Feature SAT ACT
Purpose Measures reasoning and critical thinking skills Measures knowledge and understanding of the material
Sections Math, Reading, and Writing (with an optional essay) English, Math, Reading, Science (with an optional essay)
Scoring 1600 (800 for each of the two sections) 36 (with individual section scores)
Format Multiple choice questions Multiple choice questions
Time 3 hours (with an additional 50 minutes for the essay) 2 hours 55 minutes (with an additional 40 minutes for the essay)
Administered By College Board ACT, Inc.

It’s important to note that while the SAT and ACT are different, they are both widely accepted by colleges and universities in the United States as part of the admissions process. Some colleges accept either test, while others have a preference for one over the other, so students need to check with the colleges they’re interested in applying to before deciding which test to take.

Which Test is Right for You

Test-takers may find that deciding which test to take, the SAT or the ACT can be challenging. Both standardized tests are accepted widely by colleges. However, the format and content of each test are unique, so it’s important to consider which test aligns better with the student’s academic strengths and goals.

One way to determine which test to take is by taking practice tests, here at Groza Learning Center.  Students may take one or both the ACT and the SAT and compare their scores. 

Once our educational experts have these results we can help assess which test aligns better with the student’s strengths and preferences as well as identify areas to focus on when creating a test prep tutoring program.

Our educational specialists can also help identify which test is preferred by the colleges the student wants to apply to.

Let Us Help You Get A Good Score

Groza Learning Center understands how difficult and frustrating it can be to ensure your child is properly prepared to get into the schools of their choice. Our award-winning test prep program becomes your child’s guide to help them achieve their academic hopes and dreams. With our comprehensive instruction and support, tailored to your child’s individual needs and goals, you can be sure that your child will have the best possible chance of success.

Don’t let the college admissions process be a stressful and overwhelming experience for you and your child. Give them the edge they need to succeed with their SAT or ACT. Contact us today to learn more and get started on your path to success.