New SAT vs ACT: Comparison Charts


The SAT and the ACT are both recently underwent updates: the ACT got a new writing test and some minor content tweaks, while the SAT was fully redesigned.

With all this change, it can be difficult to keep track of everything. I've created some simple charts that outline the basic differences in structure and content for the new SAT vs the ACT.

This post is more of an overview than a detailed side-by-side comparison, however, so for a more in-depth discussion of the differences between the updated versions of the two tests, you should take a look at our full breakdown of the SAT vs ACT here.


Image: Zach Stern/Flickr


General Test Structure

As you'll see in the chart below, the redesigned SAT is radically streamlined—there are now only four sections and the scoring has returned to the original 400-1600 (instead of the 600-2400 scale used from 2005-2015). The wrong answer penalty has also been eliminated.

The ACT format, meanwhile, is essentially the same. The essay is slightly longer, however.





Total Time

3 hrs (plus 50 min for essay)

2 hrs 55 min (plus 40 min for essay)

Number of sections

4 plus essay

4 plus essay


Reading:  65 min

Writing and Language: 35 min

Math (No calculator): 25 min

Math (with calculator): 55 min

Optional essay: 50 min

English: 45 min

Math:  60 min

Reading: 35 min

Science: 35 min

Optional essay: 40 min


Two section scores, Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (includes Reading and Writing and Language) and Math, on  a 200-800 scale combined for a total score from 400-1600

Four section scores scaled from 1-36 averaged for a composite from 1-36

Wrong answer penalty?






Since the new SAT includes only long passages and the ACT recently added paired passages, the two tests' reading sections have become much more similar.

Nonetheless, there are still some major differences in the types of questions they ask: the evidence questions on the redesigned SAT are especially different from ACT reading questions.






65  min

35 min


4 single passages and 1 pair, 10-11 questions each

4 passages, potentially including 1 paired passage, 10 questions each

# of questions

5 passages, 52 questions

4 passages, 40 questions

Time per passage/question

13 min/75 sec

8 min, 45 sec/53 sec

Passage types

1 U.S. or World Literature, 2 History or Social Studies, 2 Science

1 Prose Fiction or Literary Narrative, 1 Social Sciences, 1 Humanities, 1 Natural Sciences

Question types

Main Idea, Vocab-in-Context, Inference, Evidence Support, Data Reasoning, Technique, Detail-Oriented

Main Idea, Vocab-in-Context, Inference, Detail-Oriented

Key skills

Reading comprehension, inferring ideas, identifying evidence

Reading comprehension, inferring ideas, locating details



 SAT Writing and Language/ACT English

SAT Writing and Language (formerly SAT writing) is the other SAT section that the redesign made markedly more similar to its ACT equivalent. The College Board ditched Identifying Sentence Errors and the rest of its unique question styles for an ACT-style passage structure.

However, the new SAT writing section still doesn't include the big-picture organization and main idea questions that the ACT English section does.






35  min

45 min


4 passages, 11 questions each

5 passages, 15 questions each

Total # of questions

44 questions

75 questions

Time per passage/question

8 min, 45 sec/48 sec

9 min/36 sec


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

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%)

Key Skills

Understanding grammar rules, expressing ideas clearly, connecting sentences logically

Understanding grammar rules, connecting sentences logically, recognizing overall structure and argument




The redesigned SAT math section focuses on a limited set of topics, primarily algebra. The diminished presence of geometry sets the new SAT math section apart from the one on the ACT, which is still roughly a third geometry and trigonometry questions.

Redesigned SAT math also includes a no-calculator section, a significant number of data analysis problems, and simpler wording for questions.






80 min

60 min


Divided in to two sections

No calculator: 20 questions (4 grid-ins), 25 min

With calculator: 38 questions (9 grid-ins), 55 min

1 section, all questions multiple choice

Total # of questions

58 questions

60 questions

Time per question

No calculator: 75 sec

With calculator: 87 sec

1 min


Heart of Algebra — 33%

Problem Solving and Data Analysis — 28%

Passport to Advanced Math — 29%

Additional Topics in Math — 10%

Pre-algebra — 20-25%

Elementary algebra — 15-20%

Intermediate algebra — 15-20%

Coordinate geometry — 15-20%

Plane geometry — 20-25%

Trigonometry — 5-10%

Key Skills

Doing simple calculations without a calculator, translating word problems, analyzing data

Memorizing formulas, translating word problems, working quickly without making errors




The redesigned SAT still doesn't have a separate science section, but it does include science questions in all three of the other sections.

Those questions are primarily focused on reading charts and graphs, while ACT science tests a wider range of skills.







35 min


No specific section, 2 passages in reading (21 questions), 1 passage in Writing (6 questions), and 8 questions in Math

~7 passages, with 5-7 questions each

Total # of questions

35 questions

40 questions

Time per passage/question

Varies by section

5 min/53 sec


Varies by section

Data Representation — 30-40%

Research Summaries — 45-55%

Conflicting Viewpoints — 15-20%

Key Skills

Understanding scientific ideas, reading charts and graphs

Doing simple calculations without a calculator, reading charts and graphs, analyzing experimental design



SAT Essay/ACT Writing

The ACT writing section (the essay) is the one part of the test that's undergone major changes. You're still presented with an issue and asked for your opinion on it, but you're also given three perspectives on the topics and asked to analyze them. 

The new SAT essay, on the other hand, is more similar to the type of papers you write in English class: the prompt asks you to read and analyze a persuasive essay.






50 min

40 min





Presented with an essay or article and asked to analyze the author's argument

Presented with 3 viewpoints on a topic and asked to analyze those ideas as well as argue for your own perspective

Grading Critera

Writing, Reading, and Analysis

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


Given a score from 2-8 for each dimension

Score from 1-12, based on average of scores from the four domains



What's Next?

If you still have questions about the redesigned SAT, check out our full breakdown of the changes to the test.

Still not sure whether to take the SAT or the ACT? Check out our quiz!

And if you are planning to take the new SAT, don't panic! Take a look at these five reasons the changes aren't as big of a deal as you might think and get an early start on preparing with our preliminary study guide.



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About the Author
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Alex Heimbach

Alex is an experienced tutor and writer. Over the past five years, she has worked with almost a hundred students and written about pop culture for a wide range of publications. She graduated with honors from University of Chicago, receiving a BA in English and Anthropology, and then went on to earn an MA at NYU in Cultural Reporting and Criticism. In high school, she was a National Merit Scholar, took 12 AP tests and scored 99 percentile scores on the SAT and ACT.

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