Breakdown: SAT vs. ACT


Photo Credit: Madison Anthony

Are you ready?

Get stressed ladies! The ACT and SAT fall dates are quickly approaching. These tests are an important step in the college application process, and as a senior I have taken both test multiple times and know how they differ.

The SAT has three categories: math, critical reading, and writing. The test itself has ten multiple choice sections and an essay. Students are given multiple breaks lasting a few minutes every few sections. It is scored on a basis of 2400 points, with students gaining one point for each question answered correctly, losing one fourth of a point for each question answered incorrectly, and neither gaining nor loosing points for questions omitted.

The SAT is an aptitude, meaning it test what you can do rather than what you know. It is more vocabulary intensive and has a less straightforward essay. An essay question will likely appear looking resembling one such as this one found on, as opposed to your average ACT essay question looking something like this one found of However, this test requires less knowledge of math, testing only arithmetic, algebra, and geometry. This does not necessarily mean the math section is easier, because, like the test of the test, it is less straightforward than its ACT counterpart.

The ACT has four sections (english, reading, math, and science) and an essay, and each section has a specific number of questions. The english section has seventy-five, the math section has sixty, and the remaining two sections both have forty. A student gains points for each questions answered, but no points are subtracted for questions that are either answered incorrectly or omitted.

The ACT tests what you have learned in school and is more straightforward, meaning it makes less of an attempt to trick you. However, it requires knowledge of trigonometry, which the math section of the SAT omits. In addition, the sections of the ACT take much longer that the sections of the SAT, with the shortest sections, reading and math, taking thirty-five minutes and the longest section, math, taking an entire hour. For more fidgety students the biggest challenge of the ACT may be finishing in the time provided.

While it is important to take both tests typically students tend to favor one over the other. You may find the SAT easier if you are an “english person”, are more fidgety, and consider yourself test-savvy. You may find the ACT easier if you are a “science and math” person and are more academic than test savvy, as the ACT is curriculum based.

The closest ACT date is September 21 and the nearest SAT date is October 5. Check for the full ACT schedule and for the full SAT schedule.