SAT vs. ACT: What's The Difference And Which Should You Take - Crimson Education US (2023)

The ACT and the SAT are both respected and equally recognized by most universities. Colleges use these scores to compare applicants before offering admission to their university. So, which one should you take? At first glance, it’s hard to see their differences. Let’s take a look at the similarities and differences between the SAT and ACT so you can make the most informed testing decision.

SAT vs. ACT: An Overview

While the SAT and ACT are both standardized exams, they are distinctively different tests that assess a student’s ability and readiness for university. For decades, the SAT and ACT have rivaled each other. The SAT was originally a more psychological test that assesses aptitude for learning, and the ACT, a placement test used as an indicator for academic preparation and achievement.

SAT vs. ACT Overall Comparison
Number of Question215154
Length of Assessment3 hours 35 minutes3 hours 15 minutes
Scoring Scale1-36400-1600
SectionsMath (Calculator and Non-Calculator), Reading and WritingMath, Reading, Writing, and Optional Essay
Test DatesFour times per year – March, May, October, and DecemberSix times per year – February, April, June, July, September, and October

COVID-19 Impact on the SAT and ACT

Universities re-examined SAT and ACT testing when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and testing sites were not available to everyone. The popularity of these tests was already waning, so the pandemic allowed schools to re-evaluate their effectiveness.

With testing options available again, some universities are choosing

  • Test-optional (choose whether or not to submit your scores)
  • Test-blind (schools don’t consider test scores in admissions decisions)
  • Eliminating the test scores from the application

However, completing these tests still helps you stand out from other applicants, especially in test-optional applications. Some schools also use the test scores for class placements.

(Video) Crimson Education CEO Jamie Beaton's Secret To Getting Into Any Top University

Find out which universities are going test-optional, test-blind, or test-flexible.

Recently, The College Board announced that students can begin taking the SAT online starting in 2023. Significant changes will be made to the SAT as well, including: SAT to ACT Conversion Chart: Convert Your SAT Scores to ACT ...

  • A shorter test
  • Additional time given between questions
  • Shorter reading passages
  • Use of calculators for the entire math section

For more information on the SAT going digital, read our blog on Everything You Need to Know About the Digital SAT.

Similarities between the SAT and ACT Tests

SAT vs. ACT: What's The Difference And Which Should You Take - Crimson Education US (3)

While the tests do not contain the same assessments, the SAT and ACT have several similarities, including:

  • They take over three hours to complete. (The ACT is 15 minutes shorter.)
  • They give colleges a solid overview of each student’s capabilities
  • They cover basic subjects like reading, writing, and mathematics
  • Typically, 3rd and 4th-year high school students take these tests
  • Registration for both opens about one month before the test date
  • Most universities generally accept both
  • Students aren’t penalized for a wrong answer
  • Contain passage-based reading and writing questions

Differences between the SAT and ACT Tests

1. SAT vs. ACT Scores

After completing the SAT, you receive a score between 400 and 1600, whereas the ACT scores are between 1 and 36. While these scoring numbers are different, university admissions use a simple conversion chart to compare test scores with other applicants.

Learn more about what is a good SAT score and ACT score and how you can achieve it.

ACT to SAT Score Conversion Chart
ACT Composite ScoreSAT Composite Score
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2. Number of Test Questions

The ACT has 215 assessment questions compared to the SAT, which has 154 questions. This difference impacts the timing per section for each assessment. For example, if your child scored a total of 1250 on the SAT and a 26 on the ACT, according to the chart, these are comparable scores. Since neither score is...

3. Timing

The SAT gives you more time per section, allowing you to spend longer on each question. However, this may be because SAT questions include more writing and require more problem solving, while ACT questions are more straightforward. For example, the SAT’s reading comprehension section allows about 13 minutes per passage. The ACT only gives you about eight minutes per passage. SAT and ACT Scores

4. Test Sections

While both tests cover Math, Reading, and Writing, the ACT also includes a science section. The SAT has an additional non-calculator math section and includes a basic formula page.

Both tests had an optional extended writing section but discontinued this section in June 2021. The ACT now has an optional writing section that includes a prompt. This section allows students to express their personal opinions on a subject and back them up with a convincing argument. The ACT and the SAT are recognized by most universities. Let’s take a look at the similarities and differences between the SAT and ACT so you can make the most informed testing decision.

SAT vs. ACT: What's The Difference And Which Should You Take - Crimson Education US (4)Example ACT Science Questions

5. Command of Evidence Questions

The SAT and ACT each have a category that assesses reading skills. However, the SAT includes command of evidence questions. These questions rely on your answer to the questions that precede it. You’re required to identify the text that provides the best evidence for your answer by looking at your answer to the previous question.

SAT vs. ACT: What's The Difference And Which Should You Take - Crimson Education US (5)Example command of evidence question

Which Is Easier, the SAT or ACT?

SAT vs. ACT: What's The Difference And Which Should You Take - Crimson Education US (6)

Understandably, this is a common question. You want to take the easier test to have a better chance of a high score. Some people argue that the ACT is easier because it adds up to a lower score. Universities use both tests as academic measures to compare students. They are similar in difficulty with a comparable level of challenge. Most colleges will back this up, stating both tests are equally challenging. If you’ve finished taking the ACT and want to know what your score would convert to on the SAT, check out this 2022 conversion chart.

(Video) Crimson's Guide to College Applications: Introduction!

Should I Take The SAT Or ACT?

If both tests are equally challenging, which one should you take? First, evaluate where your natural abilities lie. In general, students who enjoy writing, literature, and verbal communication tend to prefer the ACT. Those more mathematically-minded prefer the SAT.

Strong Math Skills

The SAT math section is split into one calculator and one non-calculator section, with a math formula guide to assist with the problems. These sections contribute to about 50% of your final SAT score.

The ACT only has a calculator section that accounts for about 25% of the overall score. If math is not your strong point, sitting the ACT may be the better option. ACT and the College Board have completed a concordance study that is designed to examine the relationship between scores on the ACT test and the SAT.

Practice Both Tests

If you’re still unsure which test you should take, try taking a practice test for the SAT and ACT. Compare your scores, how you felt about the questions, and which one felt easier for you.

Take Both Tests

There’s nothing wrong with taking both tests. While this means you have to study for both tests, it also means you can submit your best score. While you can take the tests more than once, universities discourage taking the test more than three times. Weighs the benefits of the ACT over the SAT.

Do universities prefer the SAT or the ACT?

It depends on the university. Many universities in the United States accept either the SAT or the ACT, and some schools do not have a preference for one test over the other. However, there are a few universities that may have a preference for one test, or require one test over the other for admission. ACT/SAT Concordance - Scores - The ACT Test

It is important to check with each university to see if they have any specific requirements or recommendations regarding the SAT and ACT. Some schools may require or recommend one test over the other, or may require or recommend that students take certain subject tests in addition to the SAT or ACT. SAT and ACT Scores. SAT Scores. Due to changes in testing requirements and populations, SAT scores are no longer posted on PDE's website.

Additionally, some universities may consider the optional essay section on the SAT or ACT, while others do not. It is important to check with each university to see if they require or recommend the optional essay section.

Ultimately, you should take the test that you feel most comfortable with and can perform your best on, regardless of which test universities may prefer. ACT vs. SAT: How to Decide Which Test to Take

Use our free SAT practice test to start preparing for one of the most important tests you’ll ever take!

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Final Thoughts

The key to achieving success in the SAT or ACT is preparation. If you take steps to prepare for the tests, understand each test’s objective, and choose the one that matches your learning and test style, you have the best chances of succeeding. SAT vs. ACT: What's The Difference And Which Should You Take - Crimson Education US

Read our blog on How to Study for the SAT to gain your best score.

Our SAT/ACT test prep program is developed by Harvard grads, PhDs and top tutors from around the world. Book a free consultation to learn more about how we can help you prepare for the SAT or ACT tests!

What Makes Crimson Different

Frequently asked questions about the SAT and ACT

Is the ACT easier than the SAT?

Universities use both tests as academic measures to compare students. They are similar in difficulty with a comparable level of challenge. Most colleges will back this up, stating both tests are equally challenging. SAT Scores – SAT Suite | College Board

Do colleges prefer the ACT or SAT?

Colleges do not have a preference for one test over another. Students tend to choose a test based on which is popular in their region and their academic learning style.

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Do you have to take the SAT and ACT?

No, you do not have to take both the SAT and ACT. All schools accept both SAT and ACT scores but only require you to submit one or the other. If you choose to take both the SAT and ACT, you can submit the stronger score in your college application. If you decide only to take one test, select the one geared more towards your strengths and focus your study time on that test.

What do SAT and ACT stand for?

The SAT originally stood for the “Scholastic Aptitude Test.” As the test evolved, they dropped the name, and it’s now just known as the SAT.

Developed in 1959, the ACT originally stood for “American College Testing.” Over time, they dropped the long name. Now the ACT acronym stands for itself. Official ACT to SAT (New 1600 and Old 2400) Conversion Charts

Key Resources & Further Reading

  • SAT/ACT Score Converter
  • SAT vs ACT Infographic
  • What is a Good SAT Score
  • What is a Good ACT Score
  • How to study for the SAT


What is one difference between the ACT and the SAT answers? ›

The SAT allows more time per question for every section of the test, whereas the ACT requires you to move faster through the questions. Additionally, the ACT has more questions than the SAT, but the SAT questions often require more lengthy reading and problem solving (so they take a little longer to complete).

What is the difference between ACT vs SAT? ›

The ACT has more questions, with less time per question. The SAT questions are fewer in number but are more challenging and require more time to answer.

Which one should I take SAT vs ACT? ›

While both tests are designed to measure what you learned in high school, the SAT is a better indicator of skills you'll actually need to succeed in college and your career.

What are 3 key differences between the SAT college entrance exam and the ACT college entrance exam? ›

The SAT includes reading, writing and language, math (with calculator) and math (no calculator). The ACT includes English, math, reading, science and writing (optional essay). Calculator rules. The SAT includes a section in which the use of calculators is not allowed.

Are ACT questions harder than SAT? ›

The SAT and ACT generally cover the same topics. Both ACT and SAT scores are used for college admissions decisions and awarding merit-based scholarships. Most colleges do not prefer one test over the other. Neither the SAT or ACT is harder than the other.

How do you determine if ACT or SAT is better for you? ›

Method 1: Take Official Practice Tests

Instead of just guessing whether you'll be better at the ACT or SAT, the best way to decide is to actually take each test and then compare your scores. To do this, you'll need to find an official practice test for both the ACT and SAT.

How many times can you take the ACT? ›

How Many Times Should You Take the ACT? If you're not satisfied with your scores, you can retake the ACT. ACT Inc., which administers the exam, lets you take the test up to 12 times, though it's best to take it no more than 2-3 times.

How many times can I take the SAT? ›

Students can take the SAT as many times as they want. We recommend that they take it at least twice—in the spring of their junior year and the fall of their senior year. Most students get a higher score the second time, and most colleges consider a student's highest SAT score when making admission decisions.

What are the pros and cons of the SAT and ACT? ›

Both tests are about the same length, but the SAT features fewer, longer sections while the ACT is broken up into more, smaller sections. If you have a hard time staying focused during long tasks, the ACT is the better choice, but if you get distracted by constant changes, the SAT is a more natural fit.

Do most colleges want SAT or ACT? ›

Most colleges require either the SAT or ACT and express no preference for either test. That said, significant percentages of students at selective colleges are submitting scores from both tests when they apply.

Do you have to take the ACT to get into college? ›

Students with an ACT test score qualify for more scholarships. Even test-optional colleges often require a test score when awarding merit-based scholarships. Without an ACT score, you could be missing out on thousands of dollars in scholarship money.

Do more students take the ACT or SAT? ›

As of 2019, the SAT is officially more popular than the ACT with 55% of the market share. More than 2.2 million students in the class of 2019 took the SAT compared to about 1.8 million students who took the ACT.

What are the two most common college entrance exams? ›

The main college entrance exams are the ACT and the SAT. The CLT is a newer alternative that is accepted by a small number of colleges. Colleges and universities, especially highly selective schools, may also require SAT Subject Tests.

What is more important for college GPA or SAT? ›

There are several reasons that the SAT is considered a more valuable admissions tool than your GPA. The most obvious is that the SAT is a standardized test. While your GPA compares you to the rest of your school, your SAT score compares you to the rest of the country.

What is more important for college GPA or ACT? ›

When it comes to the GPA and the ACT, students often wonder which one is more important. Although college admissions officers often say that they give much more weight to a student's GPA, even they will admit that your ACT score is of considerable importance.

Is SAT or ACT more math heavy? ›

Difficulty Depends on the Student

While there are similar mathematical concepts on both tests, students might find one or the other more difficult based on their own math skills. This is true of the tests themselves as well. The ACT isn't harder than the SAT or vice versa, despite what the myths say.

What is the hardest subject on the ACT? ›

Writing (Optional)

Especially with no provided basic math formulas, this could be their “hardest section of the ACT.” But not every student struggles in math – they could have a hard time in Science, English, or Reading.

What is the hardest part of the ACT? ›

Do You Feel Confident in the Content? Obviously, it's not a good idea to take the ACT® unless you have a good grasp on the content that will be tested. The ACT® Reading and ACT® Science sections are both the hardest and easiest to prepare for.

Is there an essay on the SAT? ›

Each SAT Essay consists of one passage between 650 and 750 words that you will read and then respond to. You will have 50 minutes to complete the SAT Essay. The purpose of the SAT Essay is to assess your ability to analyze an author's argument.

How can a student prepare for the ACT? ›

Free ACT Official Online Practice Test
  1. Take official ACT practice tests in all 4 subject areas.
  2. Know exactly what you missed and what you didn't with a score report.
  3. Access related resources to improve your skills based on what you missed.
  4. Retake the test as many times as you want.

What is the easiest month to take the ACT? ›

Origin of the Myth

But here's the thing: While there were studies done that showed higher scores in one month than another, those months changed year to year. First experts would cry “December is easiest! Take it in December!” and a few years later they'd swear “May is by far easier!”

Do most people retake the ACT? ›

About half of all high-school students who took the ACT will choose to retest at least once. 57% of students who retake the ACT see a score improvement, and on average, students who took the ACT more than once had a Composite score that was 2.9 points higher than students who just took it once.

How many times can you take the SAT and ACT tests? ›

How many times CAN I take the SAT/ACT? Technically, you can take the ACT up to 12 times and the SAT as many times as you want.

Is 1 month enough to study for SAT? ›

Studying for the SAT in a month is possible, though it's recommended that you spend 10 to 20 hours per week over the course of two or three months prepping for the SAT.

How much does it cost to retake the SAT? ›

How much does an SAT retake cost? You must pay $60 each time you register for the SAT, regardless of how many times you take or have taken the test. Eligible students can receive SAT fee waivers. These let you take the SAT twice for free.

How long should you study for the SAT? ›

We recommend you spend 6–20 hours preparing for your first SAT. Make sure you reserve enough time to take at least one full-length practice test (about 4 hours if you practice the essay as well), and give yourself time to review the concepts you're struggling with.

What is the disadvantage of SAT? ›

The downside of taking the SAT or ACT to practice for life after high school, though, is that the tests can cause intense anxiety that can negatively impact scores, the same scores which many colleges still consider important to determining whether to admit an applicant. 3.) They don't predict overall college success.

Do SAT and ACT matter anymore? ›

If the college does not require the test, then generally NO, it will not hurt your application. But know that without test scores other parts of your application will become more important. This includes your GPA, your college essay, awards and achievements, references, and any extracurricular activities you include.

Why colleges should not require ACT or SAT? ›

Standardized tests are a poor measure of college readiness and intelligence, which diminishes their overall credibility. Standardized tests, such as the SAT and ACT, do not test in every field of education. Therefore, it is unfair as most students tend to accelerate better in certain classes over others.

Does Harvard prefer ACT or SAT? ›

Harvard, like the rest of the Ivy League and most other colleges, requires either the SAT or ACT for admission. They have no preference between them, so choose the test that's a better fit for you, thoroughly prepare for it, and plan to take it multiple times.

Do Ivy League schools want ACT or SAT? ›

All eight Ivy League schools will continue to have test-optional policies for the 2022-23 application cycle. While high SAT scores are an asset, they're just one metric that colleges consider. Students should aim to score in the 75th percentile among admitted students.

Do colleges care about ACT scores? ›

College admission tests like the SAT and ACT are standardized tests typically taken in your junior or senior year. Colleges use scores from these tests to help them make admission decisions. Each college has its own admission processes and policies, and they use scores differently. Here are the facts you need to know.

Do any colleges only accept ACT? ›

A common myth is that elite colleges prefer the SAT over the ACT. Or that the ACT is preferred by colleges in your state. In reality, all colleges and universities that require standardized testing accept both the ACT and SAT.

Should I take both the ACT and SAT? ›

Some students may be interested in taking both the SAT and ACT — and you certainly can, if you wish to do so — but it's generally best to avoid doing this. For one, you'll have to study for two separate exams, each of which has its own structure, content, and questions.

Can you go to college if you never took SAT or ACT? ›

Yes. Students can attend college without taking the SAT test. Some schools require the ACT test.

What percent of high school students take the SAT or ACT? ›

According to a College Board study, only 24% of the state's 2021 graduating class took the SAT, compared with 67% in the previous class, most of whom took it before shutdowns.

Why do more people take SAT? ›

Conclusion: Why Take the SAT? Taking the SAT (or ACT) seems to be the decision most college-bound students make. There is, in fact, very good reason for this pattern; as discussed above, these tests can help you find your way into college, get a scholarship to pay for college, and even land a job down the road.

Why is the ACT so much easier than the SAT? ›

Is ACT Easier Than SAT? Since the ACT's tone is more straightforward, it makes the ACT a better fit for students who like to move quickly through an exam or who historically have struggled with reading.

What is the hardest college entrance exam? ›

The GRE is one of the most challenging examinations in the world, and it is meant to assess individuals who want to study overseas. It is mainly used for master's and Ph.D. programs at foreign universities.

What are the hardest college exams? ›

GRE (Graduate Record Examination)

Owned and administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), GRE is among the world's most difficult exams. The exam is administered both online and in person. As a standardized test, GRE measures the overall academic readiness of students who want to attend graduate school.

What test must you take in order to get into most graduate colleges? ›

GRE. The GRE (Graduate Record Exam) is the most common general knowledge test for masters program admission that universities require from grad school applicants. Results from this exam are required or at least recommended by thousands of educational institutes worldwide.

Are college essays more important than SAT? ›

SAT, ACT, and other tests will never become more important than an admission essay. It's the only assignment helping the admissions committee assess each applicant's personality. Fortunately, you don't need to have exceptional writing skills to get the acceptance letter.

Do colleges care more about weighted or unweighted GPA? ›

Colleges will look at either weighted or unweighted GPAs in your application. They do tend to prefer weighted, because it gives more information about the difficulty of your classes, but don't worry if your school uses an unweighted scale.

Can a high GPA make up for low SAT? ›

For one, admissions officers look at more than just SAT scores when considering applicants. If you have an impressive GPA, deep involvement in extracurricular activities or volunteer work, and stellar recommendation letters, your SAT score will not be weighed as heavily when they are reviewing your application.

Which GPA matters the most in college? ›

In general, admissions officers want to see more As than Bs, so having an unweighted GPA of above 3.5 can make a big difference.

Which GPA do most colleges look at? ›

An unweighted GPA is the most popular grade point average reporting scale. It is used in high schools and colleges across much of America.

What GPA do most colleges look for? ›

Typically a 3.5-4.0 GPA, which means an A- or A average, is expected for admission to top colleges. However, you may be able to gain acceptance to a less selective school with a GPA that's as low as a 2.0 or C- average.

What is one difference between the ACT and SAT quizlet? ›

The major differences between the ACT and the SAT include the fact that the ACT also includes a section on science, and it's writing section is optional.

Does the ACT have less questions than SAT? ›

The SAT is made up of 154 questions, while the ACT has 215. The SAT requires more writing and problem solving, offering students more time to complete each section. The ACT questions, however, are more straightforward and require less time to answer.

Are SAT answers the same? ›

No, they do not. There are several versions with different sections in a different order at all times. It's only one reasom why filling in all the required info exactly correctly is so important. The sheets are scored electronically.

Is the ACT or SAT math harder? ›

Section Summary: The material tested on the SAT and ACT is almost exactly the same, as are the formats. The ACT math material is slightly more challenging, but not by much. The science section on the ACT has nothing at all to do with science.

Why you should take both the SAT and ACT? ›

There are four potential benefits to taking both the ACT and the SAT: you'll have an extra chance to excel, prepping for one can help you do better on the other, some schools might appreciate seeing both scores, and you'll get more test dates to choose from.

Why does the SAT and ACT matter? ›

The scores on the SAT and ACT allow them to narrow down the playing field and make decisions on acceptance. This also makes your individual score extremely important. The schools that are receiving 75,000 applications don't have time to read every document, transcript, or essay.

Why should ACT and SAT not be used? ›

Standardized tests are a poor measure of college readiness and intelligence, which diminishes their overall credibility. Standardized tests, such as the SAT and ACT, do not test in every field of education. Therefore, it is unfair as most students tend to accelerate better in certain classes over others.

Do questions get harder on ACT? ›

For the most part, the ACT and SAT questions fall into a randomized level of difficulty. You might start off with the hardest question and end with a no-brainer. However, there can be an increase in difficulty within a question type. This may be where the core of this myth comes from.

Does ACT or SAT have more reading? ›

SAT Reading vs ACT Reading

The SAT Reading test contains more historical text, whereas the ACT is mostly contemporary. The SAT Reading test requires students to support some answer choices with evidence from the passage; the ACT does not.

Is C really the most common answer? ›

So, ultimately, guessing C (or any letter!) will give you the correct answer only a statistical 25% of the time (20% on the math section). Which means it's NOT true that choosing C will give you a better rate of success than choosing any other letter for your blind guessing.

Is C the most common multiple-choice answer? ›

Most people (and tutors) tell students that, if they have no idea on a question, to just guess answer choice “C” — the middle answer on most multiple choice tests.

What is the most common answer on the SAT? ›

Sometimes it seems like “C”—or its equivalent, “H”—is the most common answer choice, but this is merely a myth. In fact, the answer choice orders on the ACT and SAT are generated by a computer and are entirely random.

What level of math is on SAT or ACT? ›

The SAT is designed to test basic high school math, from courses up to and including Algebra II. Students who wish to demonstrate more advanced skills may consider taking the ACT, which covers trigonometry, or the two SAT Math Subject Tests.

Should I take the ACT if I'm bad at math? ›

Remember though, on both the SAT and ACT, the questions are designed so that technically you should be able to solve them without a calculator at all. Practically speaking though, if you aren't confident in your math skills to solve problems quickly without one, then the ACT is a better bet for you.

What kind of math is mostly on the ACT? ›

Content Covered by the ACT Mathematics Test

Demonstrate knowledge of real and complex number systems. Students will understand and reason with numerical quantities in many forms, including integer and rational exponents, and vectors and matrices.


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