The Real Difference Between the ACT and SAT


The SAT and ACT have long been known to be two of the most overwhelming exams for high school students. The scores from these standardized exams are often used by college admission officers to determine “college readiness” for rising seniors. Students can choose whether they would like to take the SAT or ACT and how many times they would like to take it as well. All colleges accept both types of exams, while some colleges don’t require either of these exams anymore. Oftentimes, students opt to take only the SAT because it is thought to be “more important,” but this is only because of its popularity over the ACT. The exams help to create a holistic overview of a student, but it is not the only determining factor for college acceptance. However, receiving a good score can give you an opportunity to receive thousands of dollars in scholarships, have a college admissions officer take a closer look at your portfolio, and even overlook a low GPA or other admission factors. So, what’s the difference between the exams?



  1. Registration must be done through CollegeBoard
  2. Exam is 3 hours, without the essay, and 3 hours with the essay. Essay is optional. 
  3. The essay requires analytical skills, as you must read an article and write your essay about the author’s perspective. 
  4. Calculator use is permitted in only 1 out of 2 math sections. 
  5. Cost: $60 + additional fees if required  (there are fee waivers available)
  6. Score is calculated from 400-1600 total points. 


Reading: 65 minutes, 52 questions

Writing: 35 minutes, 44 questions

No-Calculator Math: 25 minutes, 20 questions

Calculator Math: 55 minutes, 38 questions

Essay: 50 minutes, including article and essay


  1. Registration must be done through ACT website only. 
  2. Exam is 2 hours and 55 minutes without the essay, or 3 hours and 40 minutes with the essay. Essay is optional. 
  3. The essay is opinion-based, as you must read an article and take a stance whether you agree or disagree with the author. 
  4. Calculator use is permitted in all sections of math. 
  5. Cost: $68 + additional fees if required (there are fee waivers available)
  6. Composite scores range from 1 to 36. 


English: 45 minutes, 75 questions

Reading: 35 minutes, 40 questions

Science: 35 minutes, 40 questions

Math: 60 minutes, 60 questions

Essay: 40 minutes, including article and essay 

Timing and Difficulty 

As shown above, there is a different amount of time set for both tests, as well as varying amounts of questions. Generally, the ACT contains more elementary questions than the SAT, but it is also at a much faster pace. The SAT allows for more time in each section, which is reasonable for its higher difficulty level. Take a practice exam in an “exam setting” to understand better how you perform in each exam. Based on this, you can choose which exam is best for you, playing to your strengths and weaknesses, and take advantage of your options!


The SAT and ACT have both changed drastically over the past few years. As of December 2019, the ACT is out of 36 and the SAT is out of 1600. You will receive a score out of 36 for each section of the ACT and your score is the average of the 4 multiple-choice sections. Your SAT score is the sum of your Math and English scores- each out of 800. The essay portions of both these exams are a separate grade. For the ACT, it is out of 9, and for the SAT, it is out of 12. However, since the essays are of different styles, the rubric is different for both. It is recommended to take the essay since some colleges require the assay and it can boost your overall acceptance chances. 

So How Do I Decide Which Test To Take? 

To figure out which type of test is better for you, your best bet would be to take a full-length diagnostic exam of both the SAT and ACT. Take these practice exams early on, so you have adequate time to analyze your results. You can see how many you got right, which type of questions you got wrong, how long it took you, and how you generally feel afterward. Based on all these evaluations, you will be choose which exam to take and create a study plan. Oftentimes, students opt to take both exams multiple times to try and reach the highest score possible and submit that score to colleges. Make sure to research colleges that you may be interested in to understand the range of scores for students accepted into those schools.

Feeling overwhelmed? Not sure where to take a diagnostic exam? Contact Gooroo, and we’d be happy to administer a fully proctored exam for you and have you personally matched with a tutor that works best for you!

About the Author



Sadia is an experienced STEM and college advising tutor at Gooroo. Gooroo is a tutoring membership that matches students to tutors perfect for them based on their unique learning needs. Gooroo offers math, English, ESL, Spanish tutoring, and more.