SAT and ACT- How Do They Differ?

SAT and ACT are entrance tests for admission into US colleges. SAT first stood for Scholastic Aptitude Test and later stood for Scholastic Assessment Test. Now it does not stand for any abbreviation. ACT stands for American College Testing. Initially, both the SAT and ACT tests differed only on the location of the test administration. People in the Midwest US, took up the ACT and people in the northeast, east and west coast of US took up the SAT. But today both tests are accepted by most of the colleges. Every student who wants to study in a college has to decide on whether to take the SAT or ACT. This is major decision a student has to take. First we shall briefly describe both the SAT and ACT tests. Later, we shall compare the two tests.


The College Board has contracted Educational Testing Services (ETS) to administer this test. The SAT test consists of 3 sections - Math, Critical Reading and Writing. Essay writing is included in the Writing section and is compulsory. There are sub-sections in each of the sections. The duration of the test is 3 hours and 45 minutes. The total score of the test is 2400, with each section score of an 800. Most of the questions asked are multiple-choice questions. The answers are first given a raw score and then the raw scores are converted to a scaled score. A correct answer gets 1 point. There is negative marking in the test for the multiple-choice questions. For every wrong answer a quarter of a point is reduced.


ACT has 4 sections - English, Reading, Math and Science. Essay writing is optional. The total duration of the test is 2 hours 55 minutes. Individual section scores are given in the range of 1 to 36. The total score is the average of the 4 sections which also falls in the range of 1 to 36. Since the essay writing is optional, the score is also given separately. Some colleges require the essay score for their admission process.

Comparison between SAT & ACT




Question type

Complicated and a little difficult to understand

Straight forward and easier to understand

Multiple-choice questions + other question types

Only multiple-choice questions


More emphasis

Less emphasis

Science section

Not present

Gives importance

Math section

No trigonometry

Trigonometry questions are asked

Negative marking



Writing section - Essay writing


Not compulsory

Difficulty level

Difficult due to the complicated questions

Difficult due to the time allotted for the different sections

Though both the SAT and ACT tests are for college admission, they test different skills in a student. It is not possible to say which of the two is a better test or an easier test. It is purely a personal choice based on the individual's strengths and weaknesses.

Both the SAT and ACT tests have their own positives and negative points. One has to decide based on his/her strengths and weaknesses. If you are good at science then ACT is better and if you do not like science or you are not good at the subject, then SAT is a better test.

If you are good in writing, then SAT is better and your overall score will increase because of the good writing score. It is generally believed that ACT tests more from your curriculum whereas SAT tests more of your understanding and your subject aptitude. Some of the companies that offer test preparation courses also offer diagnostic tests. Based on these test scores, the companies will advice on the test that is better suited for your aptitude.

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