The ACT and SAT exams are the two most relevant standardized tests required for college and university admissions.

Candidates have to prepare for and sit through them, hoping for a high score. The result of these tests dictates what colleges one can apply to.

Both are unique and have no advantage over the other, so choose one that suits you best, whether you're an international or a US student.

Although some students may take both tests, it's not a practical option for many due to financial and time constraints.

Both the SAT and the ACT exam include sections on Reading, Math, and English. Apart from this, they also have an optional essay section.

Resources are also easy to find because millions of students take either ACT or SAT exam every year. For example, in 2020, about 2.2M students completed the SAT, and 1.7M took the ACT test.

So, which test should you prepare for? To help you choose between the ACT and SAT, we have rounded up this helpful guide:

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ACT Vs. SAT: The Key Differences

Timing

The ACT exam, without an Essay, takes about 2 hours 55 minutes. If you include the Essay section, the duration jumps to 3 hours 35 minutes. On the other hand, the SAT exam is 3 hours long without an Essay part and 3 hours 50 minutes long with it.

In both SAT and ACT exams, time is of the essence. Students need to complete all four sections in 3 hours, excluding the essay section. To ensure you score better, make sure to finish the test and still have enough time to review your answers
Many students are unable to complete all sections of their SAT and ACT tests. One primary reason is student's lack of time management. That's why it's recommended to take SAT and ACT practice tests. (Source: Unsplash)

Here's a complete breakdown of timings for each part:

  • English ACT test is 45 minutes long (having 75 questions), whereas SAT writing test is 35 minutes long (having 44 questions)
  • The ACT math section is 60 minutes long (having 60 questions); conversely, SAT math is 80 minutes long (having 58 questions)
  • The ACT reading part is 35-minute long (having 40 questions), while the SAT reading section is 65-minute long (having 52 questions)
  • The ACT science is 35 minutes long (with 40 questions); on the other hand, the SAT exam doesn't include a science section
  • The ACT essay (optional) is 40 minutes long, whereas the SAT essay is 50-minute long

Time Per-Question

The ACT test is a time-pressured exam, requiring greater preparation and time-management skills by students.

Quite a few students fail to complete the entire ACT exam within the allotted time and miss out on at least one section. Some even fail to finish multiple sections at times.

Now, this doesn't mean the SAT exam has a higher rate of completion or that it's easier. In fact, several SAT candidates, like the ACT ones, run short of time.

However, you'll have more time per-question on each SAT exam section than on the ACT exam. For example, across all sections, you'll have 50 seconds per question of the ACT test compared to the 1 minute 50 seconds of the SAT.

Hiring a private tutor will help you understand how much time to spend on a specific question through extensive trial and error.

ACT Exam Vs. SAT Exam: Overall Structure

The ACT test has four multiple-choice sections and an optional Essay. The sections are:

  • English
  • Math
  • Reading
  • Science
  • Optional Essay

On the other hand, the SAT test also has four parts and an optional Essay. The sections are:

  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Math (without a calculator)
  • Math (with a calculator)
  • Optional essay

Without further ado, let's delve into knowing the difference between each section of the ACT and the SAT exam:

English ACT Vs. Writing SAT

Upon taking a quick peek at the SAT Writing and Language section and the ACT English section, you'll notice both to be identical.

Not just that, but both the Writing and the English parts test similar concepts.

However, here are some essential differences that you should know:

  • Reading level: most English ACT test section includes easy reading passages (possibly of 9th grade). However, the SAT Writing section includes comparatively difficult passages (perhaps of early college or high school level)
  • Graphic questions: in the ACT English, you'll see text-based questions, whereas, in the SAT Writing, you may encounter a few visual questions – those with a table or a graph attached to a text

If you want to perform better in your ACT English, we recommend taking regular ACT English practice tests. 

Math

A series of mathematical equations in ACT math. The math portion is crucial and contains 60 questions to be solved in 60 minutes. Anyone who wants to perform better in the ACT exam should work hard on their math
Polish your math skills, including algebra, trigonometry, arithmetic, and basic geometry, to get higher scores on your ACT test. If you have trouble understanding concepts, hire a private tutor. (Source: Unsplash)

Here are the main differences between SAT math and ACT math:

  • Math level: After the latest amendments, SAT math has become more challenging. Questions range from Trigonometry to Advanced math. However, between ACT and SAT, the ACT exam includes more questions on Trigonometry and Algebra II. And also, the trigonometry question on both tests are basic level, so there's no need to panic
  • Calculator usage: This is important, so pay full attention! On your ACT math exam, you're allowed to use a calculator on each question. However, the SAT exam has a 25-minute no calculator math section. The questions in this section are pretty straightforward and can be solved mentally, but do polish your basic math skills regardless. However, the next section of the SAT math test allows you to use a calculator on each question, similar to the ACT test
  • Grid-ins vs. multiple choices: SAT math has 20% grid-in and 80% multiple-choice questions, while the ACT exam includes only multiple-choice questions

Reading

You may find the reading section of both the SAT and ACT exam to be similar, but here are some crucial differences:

  • Passages: The ACT test has four lengthy passages, approximately between 700 to 900 words. On the other hand, the SAT reading section includes five passages between 500-700 words long. Or, you may see four discrete readings in the ACT exam and five in the SAT. Moreover, both tests include at least one set of paired passages to compare
  • Passage complexity: The ACT test readings are straightforward (mainly at a 10-11th grade level). While the SAT readings vary from grade 9th to first-year college level

Science

The ACT exam has a science section; however, it's missing in the SATs. Candidates also report the ACT science section to be considerably challenging when compared to most other standardized tests.

But before you assume the ACT to be difficult, you should know its science section has few questions about actual science, and those are not too intricate.

Confused?

Several questions will require candidates to make assumptions regarding scientific situations, read graphs and tables, or assess scientific hypotheses.

Although the SAT exam doesn't include a science section, the latest SAT puts a greater weight on interpreting graphs and tables throughout all units.

Essay (Optional)

A girl with a pen practicing for the essay section for her coming ACT exam. The ACT essay is different from the SAT section and requires greater effort. However, the amount of effort you are expected to put in is pretty similar!
In the English section of the ACT exam, you'll have to express your views on a particular passage, unlike the SAT test, where you have to analyze what the author is discussing in the passage. (Source: Unsplash)

Though you may argue that both the ACT and SAT are similar in almost every section, you can't say the same about the essay segment.

The ACT Essay section provides candidates with three perspectives on an issue; it then requires them to analyze it and offer their viewpoint.

Students who are good at debating and presenting views with supporting arguments will find the essay relatively easy.

Meanwhile, in the SAT essay section, you'll be provided with a passage of 650-700 words to read and then give an analysis.

In the SAT, you don't have to present your view; instead, you have to provide the author's opinion, whereas you'll have to give your arguments in the ACT exam.

Prepare For The ACT or SAT With A Private Tutor

The English section of both the ACT and SAT are comparatively similar. However, the ACT's Reading and English sections move faster than the SAT Writing and Reading sections.

This is why you should give extra time to the English ACT test and take ACT English practice tests to work towards a better score in this section.

The best way to prepare is with the help of a private tutor. They will assist you every step of the way and refer to credible, official practice tests to prepare you.

Visit Superprof to find the best ACT and SAT private tutors near you in the United States. Superprof tutors are qualified, experienced, and will teach according to your budget.

All you have to do is sign up, sift through potential teachers, choose a profile you like, and proceed with in-depth preparatory classes for the ACT or SAT.

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