At Accel Learning, we get a number of students asking which test they should prepare for and what is the difference between SAT vs ACT?

This post will not only help students learn more about the key differences and commonality between SAT and ACT, but will also help parents learn more about the tests. This will help you decide which one is right for you.

Over 2.5 million students take the SAT and ACT each year. The number of students taking these tests have only increased over the years.


SAT vs ACT – the low down

ContentEvidence-Based Reading and Writing, Math, Essay (optional and separate from the Writing Test)English (grammar), Math, Reading, Science, and Writing (essay)
Reading4 passages with 10-11 questions per passage4 passages with 10-11 questions per passage
Math- Algebra 
- Problem Solving 
- Data Analysis 
- Geometry, Trigonometry, and Complex Numbers
- Arithmetic
- Geometry
- Algebra
- Trigonometry
ScienceNo Science section in SAT- Data representation
- Research summaries
- Conflicting viewpoints
Writing4 passages and 44 multiple choice questions based on improving the essaysMultiple choice questions based on improving essays
EssayBased on a passage, Students must explain how the writer uses evidence, reasoning, and stylistic or persuasive elements to build and support their argumentTopic related to high school students
Question FormatMultiple choice (except for the essay and 12 math grid-in questions)Multiple choice (except for the essay)
Section wise time- Reading: 65-min;
- Writing: 35-min;
- Math - No calculator: 25-min;
- Math w/calculator: 55-min;
- (Optional) Essay: 50-min
- English: 45-min;
- Math: 60-min;
- Reading: 35-min;
- Science: 35-min;
- (Optional) Essay: 30-min
Total Test Time- 3 hours without Essay
- 3 hours 50 mins with Essay
- 2 hours 55 mins without Essay
- 2 hours 25 mins with Essay
Is Calculator Allowed?Yes, but only for 1 Math sectionYes
Penalty for Wrong Answers?NoNo
ScoringMath and English is scored from 200-800. Total SAT score ranges from 400-1600.English, Math, Reading, and Science scores each range between 1-36.  Composite ACT score is the average scores on the four sections; ranges between 1-36
Score ranges- Above Average >1200
- Average 840-1200
- Below Average < 840
- Above Average >28
- Average 24-28
- Below Average < 24
Score Choice?yes – you can choose which set(s) of SAT scores to submit to collegesyes – you can choose which set(s) of ACT scores to submit to colleges
Which Test is more popular and where?with private schools and schools on the east and west coasts; however, every four-year college in the US accepts SAT scoreswith public schools and schools in the Midwest and south; however, every four-year college in the US accepts ACT scores
When is the test?7 times per year: January, March or April, May, June, October, November, December6 times per year: February, April, June, September, October, December
Registration deadline?About 4 weeks before the test dateAbout 5-6 weeks before the test date

Need to learn more about the New SAT? Check this out.

Accel Learning offers SAT and ACT Test Prep. Contact us now.