What’s the Difference Between the ACT and SAT?

ACT vs. SAT: What’s the Difference?

Applying to college is an equally exciting and challenging time as students prepare to meet admission requirements for prospective schools.

During college admission, students complete applications, send transcripts to prospective schools, obtain recommendation letters to boost their application, write personal statements, and even take standardized tests to show colleges and universities they are prepared for higher education.

The two standardized exams used in the US—the American College Testing (ACT) exam and the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT)—attempt to measure students’ skills and readiness. Yet, both tests have distinct differences.

Let’s look at the difference between the ACT and SAT exams to help students understand what to expect from each exam and determine which they should take.

What is the ACT?

The ACT is a multiple-choice, standardized entrance exam used by many colleges and universities to aid in making admission decisions, determine a student’s college readiness and placement in college courses, and inform merit-based scholarship awards.

The ACT consists of four sections with an optional 40-minute writing test required by some schools. Students should research and check with prospective schools’ admissions offices to determine if they need to complete the writing test of the ACT.

Mandatory sections include:

  • English. Seventy-five questions in forty-five minutes.
  • Reading. Forty questions in thirty-five minutes.
  • Math. Sixty questions in sixty minutes.
  • Science. Forty questions in thirty-five minutes.

Students complete the ACT in two hours and fifty-five minutes or three hours and thirty-five minutes if taking the writing test. Each section is scored on a one to thirty-six-point scale, with the composite score determined by averaging all four sections, ranging from one to thirty-six. If students take the writing test, they will receive a separate score.

What is the SAT?

Like the ACT, the SAT is a multiple-choice, standardized college entrance exam providing colleges and universities with a common data point that can be used to compare applicants.

The three-hour-long SAT is broken up into the following subjects and times, with an optional fifty-minute essay portion:

  • Math. Eighty minutes for fifty-eight questions.
    • With calculator
    • Without calculator
  • Evidence-Based Reading. Sixty-five minutes for fifty-two questions
  • Evidence-Based Writing and Language. Thirty-five minutes for forty-four questions.

A student’s total SAT score is the sum of the scores for the sections, with the highest possible score of 1600. The optional essay is scored separately on a scale of 2-8 and does not impact a student’s overall score.

How Do The ACT and SAT Differ?

There are more differences between the ACT and SAT than one might think at first glance.

First, the time allotted to each test section dramatically differs, as unpacked above. The SAT allows more time per question for every test section, whereas the ACT requires students to move faster through the questions.

Additionally, the ACT has more questions than the SAT (two hundred and fifteen versus one hundred and fifty-four), but the SAT makes up for this by requiring students to read lengthy passages and more evidence-based questions.

Furthermore, the scoring system for the two standardized tests varies wildly. The ACT scores an average of each section on a scale of one to thirty-six, while the SAT scores each section on a scale of 200-400, meaning students can have a total score anywhere from 800-1600 points.

Lastly, the ACT features a science section, whereas the SAT does not, but the SAT makes up for this by featuring two mathematical sections (one with a calculator and one without). Students can use a calculator for the entire math section on the ACT.

How Are The ACT and SAT Similar?

Though the time allotted for each section and the pacing needed for each test differs, both the ACT and SAT take about the same amount of time.

The SAT lasts three hours, or three hours and fifty minutes if taking the writing portion, while the ACT lasts two hours and fifty-five minutes, or three hours and thirty-five minutes if taking the writing portion. Both essay portions for both tests are optional.

The ACT and SAT also do not penalize for wrong answers, and students are encouraged to guess rather than leave a question unanswered. Students can also send their scores for both tests to up to four colleges or universities for free, though additional fees will apply if they need to send to more than four schools.

Do I Need Both to Get Into College? Do I Need Either?

Recently, and since the COVID-19 pandemic, many colleges and universities have changed their testing policies, focusing less on a student’s ACT or SAT score and more on other application materials such as grade-point averages (GPAs), course rigor, and letters of recommendation.

That said, many schools still require students to take and submit ACT or SAT scores. Plus, students can improve their chances of admission by presenting their scores for test-optional schools, like University of Bridgeport. Most colleges and universities do not have a preference for one test over the other.

How To Know Which Exam to Take?

Determining whether you should take the ACT versus the SAT is an individual, student-by-student decision, as neither test is more challenging than the other. Instead, it depends more on which test is better suited for your strengths.

For example, if you struggle with math, you might prefer to take the ACT, where the math section is only twenty-five percent of your final score over the fifty percent when taking the SAT. Conversely, if you are highly analytical and enjoy math, the SAT might be a better option.

The best way to determine which test suits you is by taking both ACT and SAT practice tests. This will prepare students for the actual exam by showing how they perform under time constraints and what types of questions are most challenging.

University of Bridgeport is a test-optional school, except for a few specialized programs. Find out more information about our entire admissions process by contacting us today.

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