• Study Abroad

ACT vs. SAT- How to decide which test to take?

  • views1286 Reads
  • read time3 min Read
  • By:CANAM Group
  • Updated On:Sep 30,2023 01:41 PM IST

Being admitted to a university in the US often requires taking one or more standardized tests. Several tests are widely recognized and accepted by US colleges and universities, including ACT and SAT. Understanding the differences between these two exams can help students make an informed decision.

 ACT vs. SAT- How to decide which test to take.webp

Many colleges and universities require students to submit scores from the SAT or ACT- both recognized standardized exams as part of the admission process. Each test is unique regarding subjects covered, structure and scoring scales. However, both are used to measure students’ proficiency, knowledge and skills in core areas such as reading, writing and math.

This blog will help in understanding the fundamental components of each standardized test and the key differences between the ACT and SAT.


Many students dream of pursuing their higher education in the US and hence, a thorough research on how one can apply for their dream university in the US plays a vital role.

  • The ACT and the SAT are both standardized tests used for admissions in the US universities and colleges.
  • They are designed to measure a student’s readiness for college-level coursework. While both tests serve the same purpose, there are some differences in their structure and content.
  • The SAT tends to focus more on grammar and punctuation. The math sections of both tests cover similar material, but the SAT includes more advanced topics such as trigonometry and higher-level algebra.

Comparison of the ACT and SAT tests

  • ACT includes a Science section
  • SAT includes one SAT Math Section on which one may not use a calculator

Why take itColleges use SAT scores for Admissions and merit-based scholarships.Colleges use ACT scores for admissions and merit-based scholarships.
Test Structure• Reading
• Writing and Language
• Math
• Essay (Optional)
• English
• Math
• Reading
• Science Reasoning
• Essay (Optional)
Length3 hours2 hours, 55 minutes (without essay)
3 hours, 40 minutes (with essay)
Reading5 reading passages4 reading passages
ScienceNone1 science section testing one’s critical thinking skills (not one’s specific science knowledge)- STEM preferred

• Arithmetic
• Algebra I and II
• Geometry, Trigonometry and Data Analysis

• Arithmetic
• Algebra I and II
• Geometry, Trigonometry, and Probability and Statistics
Calculator PolicySome math questions don’t allow one to use a calculatorOne can use a calculator on all math questions
EssaysOptional. The essay will test how well one evaluates and analyses complex issues.Optional. The essay will test how well one evaluates and analyses complex issues.
How its scoredScored on a scale of 400-1600Scored on a scale of 1-36

ACT vs SAT : Should one take the ACT or SAT?

It has become an ambition to study in the USA for Indian students and aim for better future career prospects. If both tests are equally challenging, which one should the student take? Students should first evaluate where their natural abilities lie. In general, students who enjoy writing, literature, and verbal communication tend to prefer the ACT. Those with mathematical mind prefer the SAT.

Strong Math skills

      The ACT only has a calculator section that accounts for about 25% of the overall score. If math is not one’s strong point, sitting the ACT may be the better option.

      Practice both tests

        Students can practice both tests and try taking a practice test for each. Compare scores for SAT and ACT and also analyse how they felt about the questions and which one felt easier for them.

        Take both tests

        There’s nothing wrong with taking both tests. While this means one has to study for both tests, it also means that one can submit their best score. Although they can take the tests more than once, universities discourage taking the test more than three times.

        ACT vs SAT : How are they similar?

        • The ACT and SAT share several similarities. Colleges and universities often accept both exams as part of their admission processes and to determine scholarship awards for incoming students.
        • Both the ACT and SAT evaluate similar topics, including reading, writing and mathematics. On both tests, the reading, writing and language sections are entirely passage-based. These sections measure student’s proficiency in key areas that help determine college readiness.
        • Neither exam penalizes students for incorrect or blank answers. Both award points for correct answers.

        How are they different?

        Although the SAT and ACT share many similarities, some key distinctions are worth noting. Below are some key differences between the two tests.

          Scoring scales and ranges

          SAT scores range from 400-1600, and ACT composite scores range from 1 to 36.

          Test format and sections

          The SAT includes reading, writing and language, math (with calculator) and math (no calculator). The ACT includes English, math, reading and science.

            Calculator rules

            The SAT includes a section in which the use of calculators is not allowed. ACT test-takers can use a calculator for all math questions.

            Test length and number of questions

            The SAT is three hours long. The ACT is two hours and 55 minutes without the essay section, with the essay, it is three hours and 35 minutes long while SAT with essay is 3 hours 50 mins long.

            Science Section

            Unlike the ACT, the SAT does not have a dedicated science section but involves science questions within maths section.

            Maths Section

              Both tests cover arithmetic, algebra I and II, geometry and trigonometry, but the SAT also covers data analysis, while the ACT covers probability and statistics.
              ACT vs SAT: Detailed Test structure and Scoring scale

              SAT Structure

              • Reading test- 65 minutes for 52 questions
              • Writing and language test- 35 minutes for 44 questions    
              • Math test- 80 minutes for 58 questions
              • Essay- (optional)- 50 minutes

              Scoring scale

              The highest score a test-taker can earn on the SAT is 1600. The average SAT score is 1050, and students are not penalized for incorrect or unanswered questions.
              ACT Structure
              The ACT is composed of four primary tests and an optional essay section.

              • English- 45 minutes for 75 questions
              • Math- 60 minutes for 60 questions
              • Reading-  35 minutes for 45 questions
              • Science Reasoning- 35 minutes for 40 questions
              • Essay- (optional)- 40 minutes

              Scoring Scale

              The number of questions answered correctly is converted to a score of 1 to 36 for each of the four tests. The highest score one can achieve on the ACT is 36. However, the average test score was 19.8. No points are deducted for incorrect answers, and there’s no penalty for guessing.

              ACT vs SAT : Test preparation Tips

               SAT vs ACT.webp

              • Both the ACT and SAT include line numbers for the reading passages.
              • The SAT questions will flow in order, whereas the ACT may ask questions that are out of order when compared to the reading passage.
              • Both tests offer four multiple-choice answer options.
              • The SAT will include informational graphics such as charts and graphs. The ACT answers will be text-based. However, one passage may contain visual and quantitative elements as well.
              • No prior knowledge is necessary for either test.
              • The SAT will have one literature-based passage, one history-based passage, one social science-based passage, and two science-based passages. The ACT can have any mix of passage types.
              • On the ACT, one will have to answer more reading questions in less time, but they are less intensive than the SAT reading questions.
              • The SAT will ask more challenging questions, but there are fewer to answer, and one will have more time to work on them.
              • On the ACT, one will retrieve information to answer question

              ACT vs SAT Exam fee

              In addition to the differences in format and content, there are also important distinctions between the fees associated with the SAT and ACT exams.

              Exam FeeACT (International fee )
              The full ACT (no writing)$181.50
              The full ACT with writing$206.50

              ExamSAT (International Fee)
              Without Essay$103
              With Essay$117

              For more detailed information on ACT and SAT exams, contact Canam Consultants, the leading overseas study consultants.


              The key to achieving success in the SAT or ACT is preparation. If one takes necessary steps to prepare for the tests, understand each test’s objective, and choose the one that matches one’s learning and test style, one has the best chance of succeeding. Ultimately, the decision between the two exams should be based on individual strengths and preferences. It is recommended that you take both tests and practice tests to determine which one is the better fit.


              The SAT exam fee is $103 (without essay) and $117 (with essay), including a non-US regional fee. The ACT fee is $181.
              Most colleges and universities accept both the SAT and ACT and do not prefer one exam to the other.
              The ACT measures achievement related to high school curricula, while the SAT measures general verbal and quantitative reasoning.
              Students can take the SAT and ACT exams as often as they want. SAT is administered seven times a year in India.
              There is no age limit set by the College Board to take the SAT and ACT exam.

              Get great articles direct to your inbox

              The latest news, articles, and resources, sent straight to your inbox every month.

              World class education waiting for you.

              Events, webinar, college / university visits and more.

              Popular university and colleges for Studying abroad.

              Popular English Language Proficiency Exams

              Curated content to keep you updated on the latest education trends, news and more.

              A little effort to provide an authentic and reliable content for keen readers!!