ACT vs SAT: What’s the Difference?



Wondering which test is right for you? Although the SAT and ACT largely test the same core skills, each has its own unique flavor.

When starting test prep, students often fail to incorporate test options as part of their strategy and rush to take one test over the other. One of the keys to doing well in test prep is understanding your options and how you can use your strengths to your advantage.

Also, it’s important to remember that colleges accept either test–there’s no advantage in taking one over the other. Here are some key differences between the SAT and ACT to help you decide which test is right for you.


  • Time per question: The SAT allots more time per question on every section. For example, the ACT English section gives you 45 minutes to answer 75 questions, whereas the equivalent SAT section gives you 35 minutes to answer 44 questions. If you struggle with finishing tests on time, the SAT may be a better fit.


  • Sections: The ACT is more science heavy than the SAT. The ACT has a math and a science section, whereas the SAT has two math sections (no calculator and calculator). Because of this, the ACT is usually a better choice if your strengths are in science. However, you’ll still encounter science-related questions on the SAT  –the reading section always contains at least one natural science passage.


  • Grid-in math questions: There are grid-in math questions on both math sections of the SAT. If your brain blanks and a wave of panic washes over you when you encounter these questions, the ACT may be a better option for you.


  • Essay:  The ACT and SAT have completely different essay prompts. The ACT asks you to write an argumentative essay, whereas the SAT asks you to write an analytical essay. If you love taking positions and forming your own arguments, go for the ACT. If you enjoy deeply analyzing texts and others’ arguments, go for the SAT.


Interested in getting started right away? Sign up for a free mock ACT or SAT.