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  • Writer's pictureAli Mansouri

Looking at the SAT® vs ACT®

Updated: Apr 7, 2020

One of the common questions that parents ask is what is the difference between the SAT® and ACT ® Exams.

Before getting into the details, it is important to keep in mind that the SAT® Exam was completely revamped in 2016. The new SAT® is now far more similar to the ACT®. Any advice that you may have heard or read about from before 2016 is no longer entirely valid.


Both tests have 4 sections.

The SAT® is made up of: Reading, Writing, Math No Calculator, Math Calculator

The ACT® is made up of: English, Math, Reading, Science

The Reading and Writing/English sections of both exams are extremely similar. The Math sections also largely overlap, though the ACT® does not have a no calculator section.

The Science section of the ACT® is mostly concentrated on interpreting data from tables and figures. While the SAT® does not have a separate sections for this, these types of questions are also found in the Reading, Writing, and Math sections of the SAT.


Both exams take about 3 hours without the optional essay. However, the number of questions and individual section times for the ACT® allow for a little bit less time. For this reason students that have difficulty with time often prefer the SAT®.

Dates Exam is Offered

SAT®: March, May, June, August, October, November, December

ACT®: February, April, June, October, December


Both tests are scores as percentiles, not raw scores. A student's score is calculated in comparison to all other students who took that particular exam in that particular session. It is possible to score a perfect score in both exams while getting a few questions wrong (depending on the curve for that particular month).

The SAT® is scored on a scale of 400 to 1600. The Reading and Writing Sections have a combined score of 200 to 800 and the Math Sections have a combined score of 200 to 800. The student's overall score is just the sum of the two section scores.

The ACT® is scored on a scale of 1 to 36. Each individual section is also scored on a scale of 1 to 36. A student's overall score is the average of their four individual section scores.


The ACT® costs $52.00 without the essay, and $68.00 with the essay. The SAT® costs $43.00 without the essay, and $54.50 with the essay.

Although the essay is not required and not part of the overall score, it should be taken if a student wants to go to a UC school or high ranked private school.

Where to Register

The SAT® can be registered for on the College Board's website. The ACT® can be registered for on the ACT website. Please note that Elm Tutors is not in any way associated with or endorsed by either the College Board or the ACT. A short video walk through of how to register for the SAT® can be found here.

Which Test Should I Take?

Some students do better on the SAT®, some students do better on the ACT®. Both tests are far more similar than they are different and studying for one will improve one's score for the other. We would recommend each student to a few practice exams for both and seeing which test the perform better on.

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