The ACT vs The SAT – What’s the Difference?


The following chart will give you an overview of the major differences between the two tests.




  • Covers more math, includes trig
  • Questions are straightforward
  • Does not include trig
  • Questions often include attempts to trick


  • Tests usage/mechanics more than SAT
  • Tests vocabulary more than the ACT


  • Includes a science section
  • Not tested


  • Optional but often requested by schools
  • Mandatory until 2016 when it will become optional

Test Structure

  • Each subject is completed at one time, i.e. the test taker completes the English section, then the math, then the reading, then science and then possibly the optional writing section.
  • The English and math sections are broken up and there are a total of ten sections. Some students may find this more tiring.


  • The ACT is 2 hours and 55 minutes long without the writing test and 3 hours and 25 minutes with the writing test.
  • The SAT is three hours and 45 minutes.


  • Less official exams available
  • Many more official exams are available.

If you still have time, it’s worthwhile to take the PSAT and the PLAN to get a feel for the tests and to see if your scores are significantly different. You can also do this at home but be sure to use official tests and to time yourself accurately.

An official SAT exam can be found here:

An official ACT exam can be found here:

Additional Resources

Please see the following for more information on making the choice between the ACT and SAT:

Have you or your kids struggled with this? If so, we'd love to hear about it and strategies you took to overcome it in the comments below!

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