July 19, 2018


What is the ACT?

The ACT was originally used as an acronym for American College Testing.  It is a standardized exam used by most universities and colleges in the United States to admit students into their various disciplines. It was initially introduced in 1959 by professor Everett Franklin of University of Iowa as an alternative to SAT.  At the moment, it is managed and administered by a non-profit making agency also known as the ACT.

What is the SAT?

The SAT stands for Scholastic Aptitude/Assessment Test. It is a standardized college entrance examination that is extensively used by American colleges and universities to admit students into different bachelor’s degree programs. It was started in 1926 by the College Board which is a non-profit-making organization.  Although SAT is owned by the College Board, all its tests are administered by the by the Education Testing Service which in the recent days has also taken part in developing the testing system. Primarily, the test is intended to evaluate high school graduates readiness for a college education. Initially, the exam did not align with the secondary education curriculum, but concerns from stakeholders led to adjustments that featured high school knowledge in 2016.

Lets Compare ACT and the SAT

ACT and SAT share a number of key similarities as well as differences as explained in the sections that follow:

Why take the ACT / Why take the SAT

The question of whether you should take the ACT or SAT majorly depends on the differences between the two tests,  admission regulation set by your college or university, your ability in math and science subjects, the speed of answering questions and the program you wish to take in future.

ACT structure / SAT structure

The sections in the ACT in order in which they are administered are as follows:

  1. English
  2. Math
  3. Reading
  4. Science
  5. Writing( optional)

The SAT structure in order in which they are taken is as follows:

  1. Reading
  2. Writing & Language
  3. Math without calculator
  4. Math with calculator
  5. Essay

ACT Length / SAT length

The ACT and SAT length can be compared in terms of the number of questions and time allocated for each exam as summarized below:

Factor of comparisonACTSAT
Duration3 hours 35 mins (with writing)3 hours 50 mins (with essay)
2 hours 55 mins (without writing)3 hours (with no essay)
Time per sectionEnglish – 45 minutes
Math – 60 minutes
Reading – 35 minutes
Science – 35 minutes
Writing – 40 minutes
Reading – 65 minutes
Writing & Language – 35 minutes
Math( without a calculator)-25 minutes
Math(with a calculator) – 55 minutes
Essay – 50 minutes
Number of questionsEnglish-75





Reading – 52

Writing and language – 44

Math (with no calculator) – 20

Math(with a calculator) – 38

Essay – 1

ACT reading section / SAT reading section

In the ACT Reading section, the test lasts for 35 minutes, and it contains 40 questions that are categorized into four groups. Three of the groups consist of a long prose passage each, and the remaining one consists of two short passages. The passages contain the kinds of texts that are usually encountered during the first year at the university.

The skills assessed are divided into three categories:

  • Key details and ideas
  • Structure and craft
  • Integration of ideas and knowledge

In this section, you will need to use reasoning and referring skills to pinpoint main ideas, make interpretation and synthesize a sequence of occurrences among other things.

In SAT, all the questions have multiple choices that are based on reading comprehension. Some passages may be accompanied by charts, tables, and graphs. Usually, there are up to five passages drawn from science, history and social studies that are subdivided into American history/literature, sociology, psychology, or any other social science and any two passages drawn from natural sciences( physics, chemistry, and biology). All responses to the questions are based on the passages.

ACT science section/ SAT science section

The ACT has a special section that is dedicated to science only. It has seven passages with each passage having five to seven questions. Every passage has three formats that include:

  • Data Representation
  • Research Summary
  • Conflicting Viewpoints

In SAT, there is no specific section for science, but scientific aspects are distributed in the various passages in the reading section.

ACT math section / SAT math section

In ACT, math questions are purely multiple choices, with great emphasis on geometry, matrices, graphical functions, logarithms and trig functions which on the other hand are not covered in SAT. Both ACT and SAT have greater focus in algebra. Additionally, in SAT there is a reference section with math formulas.

Calculator policy comparison

In ACT a candidate is permitted to use a calculator as they wish whereas, in SAT, there is a section where a calculator is allowed and another one in which a calculator cannot be used.  In the section with no calculator, a student will be required to generate a response on his or her own.

ACT essays section / SAT essay section

With the ACT essay section, you need to have the ability to understand, compare and contrast varying perspectives as well as defend your arguments.

On the other hand, the SAT essay will need you to have strong reading and comprehension skills since you will be required to write your essay giving facts from the passage that you will be given.

ACT scoring section / SAT scoring section

In the ACT, the score range is 1-36 per section. The candidate score is the mean mark for the subjects taken. The writing section uses a score range of 2-12, but it is not included in the final score. For the SAT, the score scale is 400-1600 per section exception for math and evidence-based reading which uses a scale of 200-800 each. Scores in each section are combined to give the overall score. The essay section is also not included in the final mark and uses a scale of 1-8.