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?
|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
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|
|Section||Time Per Question|
|Critical Reading||54 seconds|
|Section||Time Per Question|
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|
|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?"|
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.
Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:
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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.