Thought Leadership


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ACT vs SAT

March 4th, 2017

Throughout your high school career, you will take plenty of standardized exams. As you begin to look for colleges or start planning for life after high school, it becomes obvious that perhaps the most important standardized exams of all are the ACT and SAT. Most accredited universities accept either test, but how do you decide between the two?

What kind of test taker are you?

Although the ACT and SAT serve the same purpose, the two exams are particularly different in the way they test students. For optimal success, it’s important for you to figure out what your test taking strengths are. These guidelines should help you determine which exam suits your strengths best.

Sections

Depending on your skill sets, you may do better on the ACT than you do on the SAT (or vice versa) as the two exams test topics and subjects somewhat differently. Here is what the ACT covers:

  • English (75 questions)
  • Math (60 questions)
  • Reading (40 questions)
  • Science (40 questions)
  • Essay (1 prompt)
Here is what the SAT covers:
  • Reading (52 questions)
  • Writing (44 questions)
  • Math w/ no calculator (20 questions)
  • Math w/ calculator (38 questions)
  • Essay (1 prompt)

For more details on what is tested on each of the sections tested, check out the preparation guide made by the ACT and SAT.

Timing

Time pressure and mental fatigue is something to keep in mind when taking exams that take a while to complete. The ACT takes 2 hours and 55 minutes to complete (3 hours and 35 minutes if you take the writing exam) with a 10 minute break after the first two sections (and a 5 minute break before the writing section). This gives you about 36 seconds per question on the english section, 1 minute per question on the math section, 52 seconds per question on the reading section, and 52 seconds per question on the science question.

The SAT take 3 hours to complete (3 hours and 50 minutes if you take the writing exam) with three breaks throughout the test (10 minutes after the reading section, five minutes after the math without calculator section, 2 minutes after the math with calculator section).

Test Dates

Obviously, taking either of the two tests depends on your availability. To plan ahead of time, here are the dates that each of the tests are administered:

  • ACT: February, April, June, September, October, December
  • SAT: January, March, May, June, October, November, December

Cost Comparison

Another important thing to consider are the costs for taking each exam. The ACT and SAT prices are relatively the same, but fluctuate depending on the pricing options you select.

Cost ACT SAT
Test without essay $39.50 $43.00
Test with essay $56.50 $54.50
Late registration $25.00 $28.00
Standby/waitlist testing $49.00 $46.00
Late registration $25.00 $28.00
International testing (outside U.S. or Canada) $40.00 $35-$49
Test date or center change $24.00 $28.00
Additional score reports $12.00 each $11.25 each

So which one is easier?


Although not guaranteed, the ACT might be easier for you compared to the SAT if:
  • You are a fast worker and don’t typically run out of time during tests at school
  • You are a fast paced reader
  • Prefer straightforward tests
  • Typically interested in what you are reading
  • Enjoy interpreting graphs and data and figuring out trends
  • Depend on your calculator during math class

Likewise, the SAT might be easier for you compared to the SAT if:
  • You are a good reader, but aren’t fast
  • Are able to get through complex passages
  • Capable of doing mental math efficiently
  • Typically interested in what you are reading
  • Good at reading in between the lines
  • Enjoy playing the game of standardized tests