SAT / ACT Prep Online Guides and Tips

Complete Comparison Charts: SAT vs ACT


The SAT and the ACT are both hard pills to swallow, but one might be easier for you than the other. If you're still trying to decide which test to take, these charts will give you direct comparisons between them in terms of format, timing, and content. Then you can figure out which one sounds like the right fit for you!


Part 1: Logistics

First, the nuts and bolts—how many sections are there, how long does it take, and how many questions are there?


Test Format

Number of Total Sections 10 4 (5 if you take it with Writing)
Types of Sections Critical Reading, Math, and Writing (plus one Experimental Section that doesn't count towards your score) English, Math, Reading, and Science (plus Writing if you take that version)
Time per Section

Critical Reading—two 25 minute sections, one 20 minute section

Math—two 25 minute sections, one 20 minute section

Writing—25 minutes for the essay, one 25 minute section, one 10 minute section 

Experimental Section—25 minutes

English—45 minutes

Math—60 minutes

Reading—35 minutes

Science—35 minutes 

Optional Writing—40 minute essay

Order of Sections Essay, 6 randomly ordered 25 minute sections, two 20 minute sections (Critical Reading and Math), and the 10 minute Writing section English, Math, Reading, Science, optional Writing
Total Time 3 hours and 45 minutes 2 hours and 55 minutes without Writing, 3 hours and 35 minutes with Writing


SAT Timing

Section Time Per Question
Critical Reading 54 seconds
Math 67 seconds
Writing 43 seconds


ACT Timing

Section Time Per Question
English 36 seconds
Math 60 seconds
Reading 53 seconds
Science 53 seconds



Part 2: Content

Next, we'll look at the meat of the tests—what skills are tested in each section, and what do you have to know?



Number of Questions 67 multiple choice 40 multiple choice
Format 3 sections, each section has sentence completion questions and passage-based questions; passages may be long, short, or paired 1 section, 4 long passages (one may be a set of paired passages), 10 questions about each passage
Subject Matter Passages are in an unpredictable order and may deal with a wide variety of subject matter Passages are always in the same order in terms of subject matter: Prose Fiction/Literary Narrative, Social Science, Humanities, and Natural Science
Important Skills Vocabulary knowledge for sentence completion questions, skimming passages, reading comprehension, understanding confusingly worded questions Skimming passages, reading comprehension



Number of Questions 44 multiple choice, 10 grid-in student response 60 multiple choice
Format 3 sections 1 section
Subject Matter Pre-algebra, algebra, geometry, data analysis and probability Same topics as the SAT with the addition of trigonometry, matrices, complex numbers, and conic sections (but trigonometry is the only one that comes up really frequently)
Important Skills Using formulas correctly (given to you at the beginning of each math section), algebra and geometry Math stamina and speed (60 math questions in one long section!), formula memorization (no formulas are given to you on the ACT), algebra and geometry, trigonometry


SAT Writing/ACT English

Number of Questions 49 multiple choice 75 multiple choice
Format 2 sections, editing individual sentences (not sentences in a passage) as well as some questions based on short passages (Improving Paragraphs questions) 1 section, questions asked alongside 5 long passages
Subject Matter Punctuation, number agreement, parallel sentence structure, correct tense, diction and word choice, improving paragraph structure  Same as SAT but with more questions on rearranging sentences and paragraphs in passages for the best organization of thoughts
Important Skills Grammar knowledge, logical organization of ideas in smaller context Grammar knowledge, logical organization of ideas in smaller and larger context



Number of Questions No science section!! 40 multiple choice 
Format N/A 1 section, 7 passages—3 data representation, 3 research summaries, 1 conflicting viewpoints

Subject Matter

N/A Biology, Earth science, chemisty, physics, very basic math
Important Skills N/A Interpreting and making predictions based on graphs and data trends, comparing scientific opinions, understanding and interpreting the design of experiments



Overall Score Impact The essay is mandatory and accounts for a third of your Writing subscore The essay is optional and will not affect your composite score in any way
Timing 25 minutes at the beginning of the test 40 minutes at the end of the test
Subject Matter Wide range of prompt topics, not directly related to high school experiences All prompts usually boil down to the core question of "What do you think about the way the world is changing?"



What's Next?

Now the million dollar question—how do you decide whether to take the SAT or the ACT? Read about whether the ACT is easier than the SAT for you.

Take an SAT practice test and an ACT practice test to see if you score higher on one test than the other—this is most foolproof way to figure out which test you should take for real.

Read this guide for advice on choosing test dates and then take a look at the SAT and ACT dates for the upcoming school year to start planning!



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Samantha Lindsay
About the Author

Samantha is a blog content writer for PrepScholar. Her goal is to help students adopt a less stressful view of standardized testing and other academic challenges through her articles. Samantha is also passionate about art and graduated with honors from Dartmouth College as a Studio Art major in 2014. In high school, she earned a 2400 on the SAT, 5's on all seven of her AP tests, and was named a National Merit Scholar.

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