SAT vs ACT- How Is It Different

Learn the difference between SAT and ACT

SAT or ACT: Three letters, two tests, and one goal: to get you into the college of your dreams. What’s the big difference? We’re glad you asked. 

While on the surface, the two tests appear almost interchangeable, they vary in structure, timing, content matter, and scoring.  Which do you choose and how do you choose? The answer lies in understanding the differences between the two. 


Without the essay, the ACT takes 2 hours and 55 minutes; with the essay, it takes 3 hours and 35 minutes.

The SAT, on the other hand, takes 3 hours to complete sans the essay, 3 hours fifty minutes with the essay.

However, while the ACT takes less time than the SAT, the ACT is more time pressured. Across sections, students have an average of 50 seconds per question, compared to 1 minute and 10 seconds per question on the SAT.


The ACT has 4 multiple-choice sections with an optional essay. These will appear in the following order: English, math, reading, science, optional essay.

The SAT also has 4 multiple-choice sections with an optional essay. These will appear in the following order: reading, writing, math (no calc), math (calc), optional essay.

Content Matter:

One of the most obvious differences between the two tests is the science section. The ACT has one, the SAT doesn’t. But, before you base your choice of tests on your scientific prowess, consider the fact that there is very little scientific knowledge needed for the science section. Most of the questions are based on your ability to interpret data, evaluate hypotheses, and make assumptions about scientific situations. 


The ACT uses a composite scoring system. Your score ranges from 1-36 and is an average of all four multiple-choice sections on the test. While you receive individual scores on each section of the test, it’s the composite score that counts. (That’s a half-point for you and a point for the ACT over the SAT).

The SAT uses a scoring system based on adding your math (200-800) and reading/writing (200-800) scores together, with a total ranging between 400 and 1600.  


Whenever a student asks, “Which test should I take?” the implication behind it is, “Which test is easier?” If it were only that simple. While Brian Giroux, director of college counseling at IvySummit, asserts, “I can maintain with absolute confidence that there is no easier test,” there may be one that is better suited to your skills.  

The ACT may be for you if…..

·     You’re a fast worker and reader. While it’s the more straightforward test, t greatest challenge of the ACT is finishing it on time.

·     You’re good at interpreting data and you like science. You don’t have to be good in science to ace the ACT, but it doesn’t hurt to kind of like it. Also, if have a talent for predicting trends on graphs and deducing the next step in processes, you’re likely to do well in the science section.

·     Your calculator is your security blanket. If you’re used to relying heavily on your calculator during math class, you may find the no calc section on the SAT beyond your comfort zone.

The SAT may be for you if…….

·      You’re a good reader who can concentrate under pressure. While there are more complex reading passages on the SAT, they are slightly shorter. This, along with the longer amount of time you’re given to complete the passages, can give careful readers the edge. 

·      You’re good at mental math. If so, you’ll be able to get through the no calc section with ease.

·      You know the strategies. The SAT is a tricky test.  Knowing how to take the SAT is almost as important as understanding the material.

In Parting:

 Remember, it’s not only about which test you take, but it’s how you take it as well. Be sure to study hard and often, get a good night’s sleep before the test, and do the best you possibly can. 

 At IvySummit, we support you in your test taking endeavors and we want to see you get into the college of your dreams. We can help you navigate the whole process. From choosing the right college, to taking the right test, to writing that killer essay, our high-level consultants will get you on the clear path to academic success. Visit our website today, ativysummit.com, and see how we can make a difference in your future.

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