Here is some comparison information between the SAT and ACT:



Testing time

3 hours
+ 50-minute essay (optional –though we suggest it!)

2 hours 55 minutes
+ 40-minute essay (optional –though we suggest it!))


Offered 7 times a year, register 4 weeks before test day, late registration closes 11 days before test day. Registration is online here.

Offered 6 times a year, register 5 weeks before test day, late registration closes 20 days before test day. Registration is online here.


3 tests + optional essay

4 tests + optional writing test

# of Questions



Time per Question

1 minute, 10 seconds

49 seconds

Score Range

Composite 400–1600
SAT Essay: reported in 3 dimensions, 2–8.

  • No longer one score between 2-12. Instead: Three scores for reading, analysis, and writing, between 2-8.

Composite 1–36
(section scores from 1-36 are averaged to create a composite between 1-36.)

  • Writing domain scores: Now on a scale of 1–36 rather than 2-12 as before.

Additional Score Information

College Board will provide several subscores and cross-test scores, including:

  • Analysis in History/Social Studies
  • Analysis in Science
  • Command of Evidence
  • Words in Context
  • Expression of Ideas
  • Standard English Conventions
  • Heart of Algebra
  • Problem Solving and Data Analysis
  • Passport to Advanced Math

Similar to the new SAT essay, the ACT Writing section will have several subscores (scoring between 1-12), including:

  • Ideas and Analysis
  • Development and Support
  • Organization
  • Language Use and Conventions

Test Length and Timing

Reading Test
65 minutes; 52 questions
Writing and Language Test
35 minutes; 44 questions
Math Test 
80 minutes; 58 questions
(20 questions in 25 min. with no calculator and 38 questions in 55 min. with calculator)
Optional Essay
1 prompt; 15 minutes

Reading Test
35 minutes; 40 questions
English Test
45 minutes; 75 questions
Math Test
60 minutes; 60 questions
Science Test
35 minutes; 40 questions
Optional Essay
1 prompt; 40 minutes

Breaking Down the Sections


  • 65 min, 5 passages, 52 questions
  • Types: 1 U.S. or World Literature, 2 History or Social Studies, 2 Science.
  • Question categories: Main Idea, Vocab-in-Context, Inference, Evidence Support, Data Reasoning, Technique, Detail-Oriented


35 min, 4 passages, 44 questions.


  • Standard English Conventions: 20 questions (45%), covering sentence structure, conventions of usage, and conventions of punctuation.
  • Expression of Ideas: 24 questions (55%), covering development, organization and effective language use


80 min, 58 questions (20 questions in 25 min. with no calculator and 38 questions in 55 min. with calculator)


  • Heart of Algebra — 33%
  • Problem Solving and Data Analysis — 28%
  • Passport to Advanced Math — 29%
  • Additional Topics in Math — 10%



50 min. scored on writing, reading and analysis


  • 35 minutes, 4 passages, 40 questions
  • Types:1 Prose Fiction or Literary Narrative, 1 Social Sciences, 1 Humanities, 1 Natural Sciences
  • Question categories: Main Idea, Vocab-in-Context, Inference, Detail-Oriented


45 min, 5 passages, 75 questions.


  • Usage and Mechanics: sentence structure (20-25%), grammar and usage (15-20%), and punctuation (10-15%)
  • Rhetorical Skills: style (15-20%), strategy (15-20%), and organization (10-15%)


60 min, 60 questions


  • Pre-algebra — 20-25%
  • Elementary algebra — 15-20%
  • Intermediate algebra — 15-20%
  • Coordinate geometry — 15-20%
  • Plane geometry — 20-25%
  • Trigonometry — 5-10%



40 min. scored on Ideas and Analysis, Development and Support, Organization, and Language Use and Conventions

Which Test Should You Take?

  • Wide range of essay prompt topics on the Writing, whereas the ACT exam is more generally based on high school course concepts
  • Known to have confusing question wording (more so than the ACT)
  • If time is your issue, the SAT might be a better fit for you.
  • ACT is more fast-paced than the SAT; there are more questions to be done in a shorter amount of time (215 questions vs. the SAT’s 154)
  • More closely correlated to your high school curriculum/classes than the SAT
  • Less dependent on English vocab than the SAT

Is Guessing Ok?

Yes! No longer penalized by 1/4 point for every wrong answer.

Yes! There’s still no penalty for guessing.

Big Scoring Changes to Know About

Essay is given 3 different scores and no longer affects the total score

  • The old “Combined English/Writing” score is the new “Writing” score, for those who sign up for the ACT w/Writing.
  • Students who take the ACT w/Writing will have a separate “Writing” score along with an English Language Arts score (ELA–a composite average of English, Reading AND Writing) and a STEM score (average of Math and Science). Read more about the new rubric here:
  • Key takeaway on ACT Writing = A student scoring 8/12 on the old scale for ACT scoring is given a 23 on the new scale, BUT a student with a 9/12 on the old scale is given a 30. The new scoring curve is very steep right at that point.
  • The same scale score no longer represents the same rank order or performance level across different scores (*see table below).o For example, students need a score of 32 on ACT English to be at the 95th percentile, but a lower score of 30 on the ACT Composite, or 27 on ACT writing places them in the exact same percentile or rank order.