ACT vs SAT: What’s The Difference?

When deciding whether to take the ACT, the SAT, or both, it helps to understand the differences between each test. While both will matter on any college application, one may be better to showcase your particular skill set. Learn the most notable differences—and similarities—of the ACT and SAT, then sign up for our ACT/SAT Prep Course to ace the exams.

The Popularity Of Each Test

According to recent numbers on the class of 2018, 2.1 million students took the SAT while 1.9 million tackled the ACT. However, there isn’t available data on just how many students took both, which is a common practice as well. Although the SATs were once heralded as the single most important college entrance exam, both tests are popular enough to have bearing on almost every college application.

The Structure Of Each Test

Here are a few things you should know about the structure of each test:

  • Total questions: The SAT uses 154 questions, while the ACT uses 215.
  • Time per question: There are more minutes per question allowed on the SAT (1 minute and 10 seconds) than the ACT (49 seconds).
  • Scoring: The ACT runs a numerical score from 1-36 across multiple categories. On the SAT, students can expect to see a score of 400-1600.
  • How each test is scored: The ACT uses a composite of your performance on each section to give you an overall score. The SAT score is a sum of your performance on each section.

What Sections Do The ACT And SAT Feature?

Both the ACT and SAT focus largely on reading comprehension and math skills, with optional writing sections.

On the SAT, you should expect the following sections:

  • Reading
  • Writing & Language
  • Math—with “calculator” and “no calculator” sections
  • Essay (optional)

For the ACT, sections include:

  • English & Grammar
  • Math
  • Reading
  • Science
  • Writing (optional)

How To Prepare For Each Test

There is enough overlap between the two tests that as you prepare for one, you’ll also have an advantage in preparing for the other. However, to give yourself the best possible chance at doing well on both, it helps to know some of the individual quirks on each exam:

  • Math difficulty progression: On the SAT, math questions tend to increase in difficulty as you move along. On the ACT, it’s more common to find random difficulty. Knowing this will help you budget your time more effectively when choosing which questions to skip and revisit later.
  • Math formula availability. The SAT provides you with math formulas, while the ACT does not. When prepping for the ACT, do more rote memorization for the important formulas.
  • Time limits. When it comes to timing, both tests give you about three hours to complete the exam. However, the ACT features more questions, which means that your internal clock should move faster if you want to give yourself enough time to revisit your answers.

Ace Your Exams with Jantzi Test Prep

Do you want more tips on how to prepare for each exam? Consider taking our ACT/SAT Prep Course to make sure you have everything you need to enter each test with 100% course.