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Comparing the SAT to the ACT – What is the difference?





What is the focus of the test?

Reasoning, critical thinking and problem solving in the areas of math, reading and writing. Vocabulary is stressed more heavily than on the ACT.

Content-based knowledge in the areas of math, reading, writing and science. Some trigonometry is included in the math section.

How is the test structured?

10 Sections: three critical reading, three math, three writing and one experimental (masked as a real section, but does not count in score)

5 tests: English, Reading, Science Reasoning and Writing (optional), sometimes an experimental section (only on certain dates and clearly marked as experimental)

What content is covered?

Math: up to geometry and Algebra II


Reading: Sentence Completion, short and long critical reading passages, reading comprehension


Writing: grammar, usage, word choice and a mandatory essay


Math: up to trigonometry


Reading: four passages, one each of prose fiction, social sciences, humanities and natural sciences


English: stresses grammar


Science: charts, graphs, data interpretation


Writing: Optional essay

Is there a penalty for wrong answers?

Yes, ¼ of a point is deducted for each wrong answer on the multiple choice section.


Which test should I take?

Research both, but consider the SAT if you have a capacious vocabulary, you can ace grammar, you like writing illustrative essays, you’re a very quick thinker

Research both, but consider the ACT if your vocabulary is not as strong as your reading skills, you’re great at writing papers but not an expert on the rules of grammar, you prefer to write argumentative essays, you are more academic than “test-savvy”

How is the test scored?

200-800 for each subject added together for a combined score of 600-2400; 2-12 for the essay

1-36 for each test, averaged together for a composite score of 1-36; 2-12 for the writing test.

Are all scores sent to all schools?

No. Beginning with the class of 2010 (regardless of when they take the test) there is a “score choice” option.  Students chose which schools see their scores and which scores the schools see.

No. Students chose which schools see their scores and which scores the schools see.

Need more information?

Educational Testing Service (ETS)

609-771-7600 or

ACT, Inc.