December 14



By NeuroHealth Arlington Heights

December 14, 2021

Either you or your student is ready to start applying to colleges, and two tests keep coming up in conversation, the SAT and ACT. Colleges often require one or the other, rarely both, although you’re allowed to take both if you prefer. What’s the difference between the SAT and the ACT? Is there any? Let’s take a moment to examine the SAT versus the ACT.

What Is the SAT?

Student taking written test
Photo by Ben Mullins on Unsplash

The SAT or Scholastic Aptitude Test is a standardized, multiple-choice, pencil-and-paper test used as an entrance exam for many colleges and universities. The College Board created and administered the SAT to measure a student’s readiness for college. It also provides college admissions with a common data point on which to compare applicants and potential students.

Your SAT score is one consideration when it comes to approving your application for admission. Other factors include your high school GPA, letters of recommendation, personal essays, coursework in high school, extracurricular activities, and admissions interviews.

What Is the ACT?

The American College Test or ACT is another standardized, multiple-choice, pencil and paper test used by colleges and universities as an entrance exam. It is administered by the American College Testing organization, a non-profit of the same name. College admissions will consider the results of your ACT as an indicator of your readiness for college. It’s a common data point used to compare students against one another when determining admissions. The ACT score will be included with your high school GPA, coursework, personal essays, letters of recommendation, admissions interviews, and extracurricular activities when admitting students into colleges and universities.

What’s the Difference Between the SAT and ACT?

On the surface these two standardized, multiple-choice, paper and pencil tests appear to be the same; however, there are several key differences. The total amount of time allotted for the test varies from three hours on the SAT to either two hours and 55 minutes without writing or three hours and 35 minutes with writing on the ACT. The SAT has sections on reading, writing, and language, math without a calculator, and math with a calculator. In contrast, the ACT sections include English, math, reading, science, and the optional writing portion.

You will have 65 minutes to answer 52 reading questions, 35 minutes for 44 writing and language questions, 25 minutes for 20 math without calculator questions, and 55 minutes for 38 math with calculator questions on the SAT. Conversely, the ACT provides 45 minutes for 75 English questions, 60 minutes on 60 math questions, 35 minutes for 40 reading questions, and 35 minutes to answer 40 science questions. The optional writing portion is 40 minutes for one essay.

Your SAT score will fall between 400 and 1600, with the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and Math sections using scales of 200-800 that are then combined for a final score. On the ACT, you will receive a score between one and 36. Each section provides a score between one and 36, with your total score as an average of the four section scores. The optional writing portion does not count toward the final score and uses a scale between one and 12.

You can expect to pay $52 for the SAT, whereas the ACT is $60 without writing and $70 with writing. Both tests are accepted by all colleges and universities in the United States.

Key Differences Between the SAT and ACT

As you can see, the SAT and ACT are not the same test and vary significantly from one another. There are 11 key differences between these two standardized tests, including:

  • Time per question. The SAT provides you with more time on average per question than the ACT does. You get 21 more seconds per question in reading, 12 seconds more for English on the ACT/writing on the SAT, and 15 to 27 more seconds on math, depending on whether you can use a calculator.
  • Science section. The SAT doesn’t have a section devoted to science, although it tests scientific concepts within the reading, writing, and math sections.
  • Calculator use. For the ACT, you can use a calculator on all math questions, whereas the SAT has both a non-calculator and calculator section.
  • Math concepts. Both tests emphasize algebra, but the ACT focuses more on geometry and trigonometry than the SAT does. The ACT also tests math concepts not found on the SAT, such as graphs of trig functions, matrices, and logarithms.
  • Math formulas reference guide. For the SAT, you’ll receive a diagram of math formulas, which is not provided for the ACT.
  • Math portion of the final score. Math accounts for one-fourth of your total score on the ACT, where it’s half of your total score on the SAT, making math twice as important for the SAT.
  • Number of choices on math questions. You’ll find five possible answer choices for the math questions on the ACT, but the SAT only gives you four options.
  • Grid-in math questions. The ACT uses only multiple-choice questions to gauge your knowledge of math. The SAT has several grid-ins which require the student to fill in their own answer.
  • Evidence-support reading questions. The SAT has evidence-support reading questions as a large part of the reading section, while the ACT has none.
  • Reading questions in chronological order. On the SAT, the questions for the reading section fall in chronological order based on the passage, but the ACT lets questions flow randomly from the text.
  • Optional essay. The SAT will no longer offer an essay after the summer of 2021, whereas the ACT offers an optional essay portion to the exam.

Today, more students are choosing to take both the SAT and ACT to increase their chances of impressing college admissions officers, and recently it’s been made easier to prep for both tests concurrently.

Both the SAT and ACT offer extended time, booklets with larger print, small group testing, and a computer for writing the essay portion for students with a documented learning disability. The process for qualifying for accommodations varies depending on the test. If you’d like more information on the eligibility of you or your student for accommodations on either the SAT or the ACT, reach out to the knowledgeable team at NeuroHealth Arlington Heights. You can contact us online via secure messaging service or at 847-584-1671. We’re here to help answer any questions you may have.

NeuroHealth Arlington Heights

About the author

For over 20 years, NeuroHealth Arlington Heights has been offering neuropsychological and psychological assessments and treatments for people of all ages. These assessments and treatments address Behavioral, Emotional, & Social Issues, Neurocognitive Functions, and Neurodevelopmental Growth.