Nowadays, most American-based colleges and universities will accept scores from either test, so you might be asking yourself ‘why take the SAT’ or ‘why take the ACT’, does it really matter which test you take?

It does, and it doesn’t. There are benefits to both the SAT and the ACT that can be used to help you as you progress through the admission process.

First, let’s explore the structure and format differences between the SAT and ACT.

SAT Duration / ACT Duration3 hours, 35 minutes (including time for the optional writing test, but not including breaks)3 hours, 50 minutes (including time for the optional essay, but not including breaks.)
StructureFour Sections

· English

· Math

· Reading

· Science

· Optional writing test

Four Sections

· Reading

· Language and Writing

· Math without a calculator

· Math with a calculator

· Option Essay

What about when it comes to the topics covered? Is there a difference between the SAT and ACT?

READING· Key ideas and details

· Craft and structure

· Integration of knowledge and ideas

· Command of evidence

· Words in context

· Analysis in history, social studies and science

MATHPreparing for Higher Math

· Number and quantity

· Algebra

· Functions

· Geometry

· Statistics and probability


Integrating essential skills


· Heart of algebra

· Problem solving and data analysis

· Passport to advanced math

· Additional topics covered

SCIENCE· Interpretation of data

· Scientific investigation

· Evaluation of models, inferences and experimental results

The test only measures ability to interpret infographics, charts and data in other section of the test, there are no specific science sections.

· Knowledge of language

· Conventions of English

· Optional essay

· Command of evidence

· Words in context

· Analysis in history, social studies and science

· Expression of ideas

· Optional essay

OPTIONAL ESSAY· 40 minute testing time

· Final score is not included in composite score

· Scored on ability to argue point of view using concrete examples

· 50 minute testing time

· Score not included in overall score

· Topic assigned through a 750 word passage on test day

· Scored on reading, analysis and writing skill

How Can You Choose the Appropriate Test?

Do you have to take the SAT or is it mandatory to take the ACT? Ultimately, if you plan to apply to a US-based college or university you will need to write one or the other. Many consider the ACT to be equivalent to SAT and vice versa, but are they really?

In deciding which test is right for you, you should first know that both have their merits. That is, both the Scholastic Aptitude Test and the American College Testing are designed in a manner that allows colleges to efficiently gauge the educational ability of prospective students by testing them on core subjects such as math, reading comprehension, and writing. Most, but not all post secondary facilities in the United States require copies of SAT or ACT sores to be included with application packages – writing the SAT or the ACT can greatly improve your likelihood of being accepted to college.

Do you have to write both tests? Probably not. But, you should write at least one – even if your school of choice doesn’t require it.

Why? Because the number of students applying to good colleges is increasingly steadily and college admission panels are tasked with having to pick the best of the best of a seemingly endless pile of potential students – anything you can do to put yourself at the top of the pile will only work to your advantage.

That brings us back to the question of which test is right for you. Comparatively speaking, SAT time length and ACT test length are within 30 minutes of each other, so if you are trying to base your decision on which test will take the least amount of time to write, you will find that both can be completed in the same time window.

What you need to consider is what you hope to do with the degree that you earn from your preferred school. If you are looking to break into a career that has a heavy focus on science, you will likely find that obtaining a strong score on the ACT will present you in a more favorable light to schools that provide degrees in science-based subjects, this is because the SAT doesn’t actually have a science component since it focuses entirely on math, reading and writing. On the contrary, if you are looking to explore the potential of formal education in language, social studies or history, the SAT might be the test you should consider.

Should I take the ACT or SAT?

Deciding between ACT or SAT is a challenge for most people. It might even be considered to be simpler to be a high school student in a state that mandates the writing of the SAT test since the decision is made for you early on, and then you can choose to write the ACT and have scores from both tests to use in your application process.

But, if you aren’t part of the crowd of students who have no choice but to write the SAT during high school, you will need to make the decision on your own. Ultimately, the decision to write either the ACT or the SAT is based on whether or not you want to pursue higher education. If you decide to take up a trade or even skip college altogether, it might not be the best use of your time to write either test. But, if you do have aspirations of applying to Harvard, Princeton, Yale or even community college you need to write one or the other in order to show admissions staff what sets you apart educationally from the hoards of other applicants all vying for the same seat.

One of the easiest ways to determine whether or not you should write the SAT or if maybe you are better suited for the ACT is write a couple of practice exams, these can typically be found online after a quick Google search and some colleges even offer prep tests as a way to prepare applicants.

Know that if you choose to write both the ACT and the SAT, it isn’t likely that you will score the same on both – in fact, the range might differ greatly. There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, there is no such thing as an SAT to ACT conversion, so the scoring methods are widely different. Secondly, the topics covered are not the same. The SAT test focuses dominantly on math and language, whereas the ACT also includes a heavy focus on scient. Both tests include an optional essay, but the way the topic is chosen also differs between the two.

In the end, it is up to you to decide which test is the most beneficial to you and your educational path. As mentioned previously, if you aspire to a career in sciences, you will likely find that writing the ACT can only help you in the end.

Interestingly, some people choose to write both tests – the scores cannot be combined to create a lower or averaged score, so they can essentially sway their chances by highlighting the test that they received the best results on and using that in their admissions packages – unless the school dictates which test is preferred.

Key Differences Between the ACT and SAT Tests

When it comes to the SAT and the ACT, both are accepted by leading colleges and universities across the United States, however, there are 8 major differences that you can use to help you decide which test might be better suited to your unique situation.

  1. TIME PER QUESTION: The SAT provides test takers with more time per question that the ACT does. Here’s how:
READING53 seconds per question75 seconds per question
ENGLISH / WRITING36 seconds per question48 seconds per question
MATH60 seconds per question75 seconds per question
SCIENCE53 seconds per question None
  1. THE INCLUSION OF A SCIENCE SECTION: The ACT has a dedicate science section that makes up ¼ of the overall ACT score. The SAT does not have a specific science section, instead it takes data from other sections and uses it to create an overall science score.
  2. NO CALCULATOR: The ACT allows test takers to use a calculator at any time. The SAT, on the other hand,  has 20 math questions where calculators are not permitted. Interestingly, this section must be completed in 25 minutes or less. If you struggle with math, this may be problematic.
  3. TYPES OF MATH: Both the SAT and the ACT focus largely on Algebra, but the ACT also focuses on geometry and trigonometry much more than the SAT. This is largely due to the scientific background of the ACT. The ACT also includes testing on matrices, graphs of trig functions, and logarithms – these things will not be found in the SAT.
  4. THE USE OF MATH REFERENCE CHARTS: The SAT provides test takers with diagrams of math formulas, the ACT expects that they should already know these things.
  5. EVIDENCE SUPPORTING READING: If you are able to quickly pinpoint areas of text to support your answers, the SAT may be the test for you. Evidence supporting reading is a huge part of the SAT, but non existent in the ACT.
  6. CHRONOLOGY: In the SAT, all reading questions follow chronological order, but in the ACT they could appear anywhere in the text.
  7. THE OPTIONAL ESSAY: In the SAT test takers are given a passage to read and then analyze, the essay will dissect the author’s argument using evidence and reason. Test takers do not form their own opinion. In the ACT, test takers will provide their own opinion.