SAT or ACT: What’s the Difference?

A critical component of the college application process has always been SAT or ACT scores. Students often begin preparing in their sophomore or junior year of high school, as each exam is only administered seven times per year, and they want to submit their best scores. But when it comes down to which exam to take, does it matter?

The answer isn’t entirely cut and dry. It’s yes and no.

First and foremost, it is important to understand that one exam is not harder or easier than the other. However, they are structured differently and cover different information, so one exam may better align with an individual’s strengths. Whereas the SAT is based on logic and reasoning skills, the ACT is more straightforward.

Key Differences Between the SAT and ACT

All of that being said, here are some main areas where the two exams differ and that should be taken into consideration when choosing a test:


· The SAT has two math sections; one calculator and one non-calculator.

· The ACT has one section of math; calculators are allowed.

· Formulas are provided on the SAT, but not the ACT.

· Arithmetic, algebra I and II, geometry, and trigonometry are covered on both exams. The SAT also covers data analysis, whereas the ACT covers probability and statistics.


· The SAT has a reading section and a writing and language section.

· The ACT has an English section and a reading section.

· Both exams cover grammar and usage, and have an optional essay.


· The SAT does not have a separate science section; science-related questions are incorporated throughout.

· The ACT has a science section, but it focuses on critical thinking and problem solving, not specific science knowledge.

Overall Exam

· The SAT contains 154 questions, and students have three hours to complete it; the optional essay is an additional 50 minutes. Scores range from 400 to 1600.

· The ACT contains 215 questions, and students have two hours and 55 minutes to complete it; the optional essay is an additional 40 minutes. Scores range from 1 to 36.

· Neither the SAT nor ACT penalizes for incorrect answers.

Although the SAT has fewer questions, they tend to be evidence- or context-based and may have multiple steps. The ACT has more questions, but they may not be as complex. Once again, that does not mean that one is “easier” than the other; information is presented differently.

Deciding Whether to Take the SAT or ACT

It can be confusing to figure out which test may be the best option for you. They both have their pros and cons. While some students may choose to take both exams, it can be costly and stressful trying to effectively prepare for both.

To assist students in determining which test aligns with their strengths and test-taking style, Crafting Scholars offers an SAT/ACT diagnostic test. This comprehensive assessment is three hours long, but it combines elements of both exams to assess your strengths and weaknesses. Once completed, a diagnostic write-up is provided detailing the results and which exam you are likely to be more successful on. Plus, you receive a personalized study curriculum to help you prepare, as well as a plan for one-on-one tutoring for additional support.

Feel more confident about registering for the SAT or ACT by knowing what to expect, and preparing for the exam that aligns with your abilities. Crafting Scholars helps take the stress and guesswork out of making a decision by providing data-driven support. It’s not too late — contact us today to sign up!