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What are the differences between the ACT and SAT?


The ACT and SAT are both college entrance tests that assess students' academic skills. However, they test student abilities in very different ways. Below is a chart that will help you distinguish the differences between the two.

How often is it administered? Six times per year Seven times per year
What is the test structure?

Four-test exam: English, Math, Reading, Science Reasoning, and an optional Writing test


An Experimental test is added to exams on certain dates only and is clearly labeled experimental. 

Ten-section exam: three Critical Reading, three Math, three Writing, and one Experimental


The Experimental section is masked to look like a regular section.

What is the test content?

Math: up to trigonometry


Science: charts; experiments


Reading: four passages, one each of prose fiction, social sciences, humanities and natural sciences.


English: stresses grammar


Writing: an essay (optional)

Math: up to basic geometry and algebra II


Science: none


Reading: sentence completion; short and long critical reading passages; reading comprehension


Writing: an essay; questions testing grammar, usage, and word choice

What differences are there between the essayfor the ACT and the Sat?

The essay is optional


The essay is at the end of the exam


Graded according to a strict rubric


Time limit: 30 minutes

The essay is mandatory


The essay is the first section of the exam.


Graded holistically


Time limit: 25 minutes

What is the focus of each test?

ACT is a subjective test.

 SAT judges reasoning ability.
Is there a penalty for wrong answers? No  Yes
How is the test scored?

1-36 for each test, averaged together for a composite score—36 is the highest possible composite score

Unless you enroll in Score Choice ™, all of your scores will be reported to colleges.

Are all scores sent to schools? You can choose which scores get sent to colleges. Unless you enroll in Score Choice ™, all of your scores will be reported to colleges.
Are there other uses for the exam?

- Scholarship purposes

- Certain statewide testing programs

- Scholarship purposes

- Certain statewide testing programs

What is the best time to register?

At least four weeks before the test date 

At least six weeks before the test date

Need more information?

ACT, Inc.: 319-337-1000,

The College Board:


Ready to prepare for your test?

Check out the ACT Prep and SAT Prep pages to see how Jamie can help you get prepared for one of these college entry tests today!



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