SAT vs ACT 2017-05-22T08:50:48+00:00

Which Test Should You Take?

Most high school juniors take the SAT or ACT to include with their college applications, and oftentimes have no idea which test they should take. Here are the most important factors to consider when deciding which test will be the best for you.

Test Length

Both tests are similar in length. If you take the Writing section on the ACT, the SAT is longer by 20 minutes. If you are not taking the Writing section on the ACT, the ACT will be significantly shorter.

While some universities do not require the writing section of the ACT, most “recommend” it. Click here for a list of colleges that require the writing section of the ACT.

  • 3 hours 45 minutes
  • 3 hours 30 minutes
    (with Writing)
  • 2 hours 50 minutes
    (without Writing)


The SAT covers three categories over ten sections, while the ACT covers four categories. The ACT has a Science section, but does not require a comprehensive knowledge of Chemistry or Biology; instead, the test assesses your analytical and problem solving abilities. The ACT is usually more straightforward in the wording of its questions and focuses more on content, while the SAT emphasizes vocabulary and writing.

  • Critical Reading – comprehension, vocabulary
  • Writing – grammar, usage
  • Mathematics – up to basic Geometry
  • English – writing, rhetorical skills
  • Mathematics – up to basic Trigonometry
  • Reading – comprehension
  • Science – data interpretation, analysis, problem solving

Scoring/Guessing Penalty

Colleges tend to look at the individual sections of the SAT more closely than the ACT. For the ACT, colleges tend to focus most on the composite score. That means that even if you do poorly on one section, if you do well enough on the other sections, you can still end up with a strong composite score.

College Board deducts 1/4 of a point for each incorrect answer, while blank answers earn 0 points. This means that random guessing can hurt your score; however, strategic guessing combined with the process of elimination, a strategy your tutor will teach you, can improve your score. ACT does NOT deduct points for an incorrect answer, which means that you should guess on every question and leave no question unanswered.

  • Total – 2400
    (sum of 3 below)
  • Critical Reading – 800
  • Writing – 800
  • Mathematics – 800
  • Essay – 12

*points are deducted for incorrect answers

  • Composite- 36
    (avg of 4 below)
  • English + Writing – 36
  • Math – 36
  • Reading – 36
  • Science – 36

*points are NOT deducted for incorrect answers

*College Board will be revamping the structure of the SAT in 2016. Click here for information about the new SAT. If you are planning to take the SAT on or after March 2016, you should consider preparing for the ACT since the test format and scoring policies are predictable.

Use By Colleges

Both the SAT and ACT are accepted by all four-year colleges and universities in the United States.


Both tests are similar in cost. Fee waivers are available – see eligibility requirements here: SAT | ACT

  • $54.50
    (with Writing)
  • $43.00
    (without Writing)
  • $56.50
    (with Writing)
  • $39.50
    (without Writing)


The SAT has one extra testing date for the rest of the scholastic year compared to the ACT. However, it is important to consider which SAT Subject Tests you will be taking since they are only offered on certain dates. For more information including 2015-2016 school year tentative dates, click here for SAT or here for ACT.

  • 10/3/15 (SAT & Subject)
    register by 9/3/15
  • 11/7/15 (SAT & Subject)
    register by 10/9/15
  • 12/5/15 (SAT & Subject)
    register by 11/5/15
  • 1/23/16 (SAT & Subject)
    register by 12/28/15
  • 10/24/15
    register by 9/18/15
  • 12/12/15
    register by 11/6/15
  • 2/6/16
    register by 1/8/16
  • 4/9/16
    register by 3/9/16

Computer-based Testing

Neither the SAT nor ACT offers a computerized version of the test for all students. The SAT only offers use of a word processor on the essay for students with a special accommodation. For eligibility requirements, click here. The ACT has a pilot program for computer-based testing that it will be expanding this year, but the computerized test will most likely only be offered to a select number of schools.

  • Essay Only
    (students who require special accommodation)
  • Select schools only


The traits listed in the chart below can help you determine which test to take, but the most effective way to determine which test is best for you is to take a full-length practice exam for both the SAT and ACT and then compare the scores. For a handy score comparison chart to see how one score stacks up against the other, click here.

You should take the SAT if … You should take the ACT if …
  • you prefer a lot of breaks
  • your strengths include vocabulary/writing
  • your weaknesses include science
  • you prefer a slightly shorter test
  • your strengths include science
  • you tend to do better on content-based questions
  • you are planning on taking the test on or after March 2016