Should I take the ACT or the SAT?

Both the ACT and the SAT are nationally administered standardized tests that help colleges evaluate candidates. Most colleges and universities accept either test. So as you begin to think about college and creating the best application package possible, your admissions plan should begin with the question, "Which test should I take?" When weighing your options, keep in mind that there are differences in test structure and the type of content assessed. Use the chart below to see which test makes the most of your strengths to help you determine which test might be best for you.
We recommend that you take a practice test for both the SAT and the ACT to see which one is better for you. Take the PLAN (Pre-ACT) as a sophomore and the PSAT (Pre-SAT) as a junior. Almost every college in the U.S. will accept either test for their main testing requirements. Taking both allows you to see which testing instrument is a better testing tool for your testing skills.





3 hours, 25 minutes (including the 30-minute optional Writing Test)

3 hours, 45 minutes


4 test sections (5 with the optional Writing Test):
English, Math, Reading, Science, Writing (Optional)

10 Sections: 3 Critical Reading, 3 Math, 3 Writing (incl. the Essay), 1 Experimental (unscored)

Areas Tested

English, Math, Reading, Science, Writing (optional)

Critical Reading, Math, Writing (includes the Essay), Experimental (unscored)

Reading (ACT) / Critical Reading (SAT)

4 Reading Comprehension passages, 10 questions per passage

Reading comprehension passages and questions, and sentence completion questions


Science (analysis, interpretation, evaluation, basic content, and problem solving)

Science not included


Math accounts for 1/4 of overall score

Topics Covered: Arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and trigonometry

Math accounts for 1/3 of overall score

Topics Covered: Arithmetic, geometry, algebra, and algebra II


Last thing you do (optional); 30 minutes

  • Not included in composite score

  • Topic of importance to high school students

  • Address counterarguments

First thing you do; 25 minutes

  • Factored into overall score

  • More abstract topic (vs. the ACT)

  • Pick a side and stick to it


Total composite score of 1-36 (based on average of 4 tests)

  • 4 scores of 1-36 for each test

  • Score of 0-12 for the optional Essay

Total score out of 2400

  • 3 scores of 200-800 for each section

  • Score of 0-12 for the Essay

Wrong Answer Penalty

No wrong answer penalty

1/4 point subtracted per wrong answer (except for Math Grid-in questions)

Test Contact Information

ACT, Inc.
(319) 337-1000

The College Board

Sending Score History

You decide which score is sent

Beginning March 2009, you decide which score is sent