Comparison Between The ACT And SAT Examination

ACT or SAT- What Do Schools Prefer?

The Dilemma

As a student, you are always faced with the dilemma of whether you should appear for the ACT or SAT test. The objective of both tests is to get you through admission to colleges. Whether you take any of these test depends largely on the school you are applying to. While some schools prefer ACT, others prefer SAT. It also depends on the nature of the course the college offers. Most colleges use such criteria to determine whether an applicant needs to appear for the ACT or SAT test. There are also colleges that accept both examination scores. The difference between these lies in the format of the test. Both differ in the way they checks the knowledge and skills of aspirants. The ACT is an achievement test that tests your knowledge on all that you have learned at high school. On the other hand, SAT is an aptitude test, a reasoning test that assesses your ability to think and deduce.

ACT is being increasingly favoured against the SAT test because of its simple format and its nature of assessment. The ACT tests a student’s readiness to join college. This is because the questions in this assessment include high school syllabus and can build on his/her subject of interest in college. The SAT also has its share of favourites who feel that the test emulates puzzles that are enjoyable to solve.


The SAT has changed in format over the years but still remains a popular choice among students for its wide acceptability in colleges. The ACT is also popular because of the format of the test and because students feel they can do well in the subject of their choice. Listed below are a few comparisons between the two tests that should help you decide whether you want to appear.

  • The duration of SAT is 3 hours and 45 minutes. The duration of the another test is 2 hours, 55 minutes. The writing test is allotted an extra 30 minutes.

  • The current format of SAT includes the Critical Reasoning, Math, and Writing an Essay sections. The ACT test has questions that are framed around school syllabi, most of which you might have already studied. The subjects tested are Math, English, Science, Reading and Writing.

  • The essay writing section is a mandatory part of SAT. It tests your ability to communicate your thoughts using good vocabulary. The writing test in ACT is optional.

  • The Critical reasoning section tests your ability to think critically. It requires you to use your knowledge of vocabulary in the Sentence Correction and Passage Reading sections. You also have more time to answer the questions based on the passage compared to ACT which allows you less time overall to answer questions. There is very little reasoning involved in the ACT test; the reasoning is limited to the Science section. The knowledge component is more and you need to work hard in order to crack this test with high scores. This is because you need to cover all the portions of the subjects to be able to answer questions.

  • Overall, SAT is a test of aptitude that checks your ability to think, reason through the given choices and answer questions. Thus, you need to have a critical bent of mind to be able to score high in this test. Contrary to SAT, ACT is a test of achievement. The test is an endurance test because the questions outnumber the time given for the test.

  • SAT has negative scoring; ¼ mark is deducted for every incorrect answer and zero marks are allotted for unanswered questions. There are no marks deducted in the ACT test.

Your Choice

Whether you appear for any these tests is a matter of personal choice. Some students feel comfortable with the SAT format whereas others feel they can score better with ACT. Colleges have their individual preference of test; they might ask for any test scores. Some colleges even accept both scores. You first need to check with the college where you want to apply whether they accept ACT or SAT examination scores. You must then identify the format that you are comfortable with.