Differences Between the ACT and SAT: What You Need to Know

All colleges and universities in the US accept both the SAT and the ACT and use the results of both tests for admissions and merit-based scholarships. This means that it is ultimately up to you which test to take–one is not better than the other in the eyes of academic institutions. So how do you choose? Here are a few differences between the tests that should influence your decision.


The SAT takes a total of 3 hours, while the ACT takes either 2 hours 55 minutes without the optional writing section or 3 hours 35 minutes with the optional writing section. When you break it down by section, the SAT offers more time per question than the ACT. If you often feel rushed during tests, the SAT is likely a better fit for you.

No Calculator Section

The SAT’s math section is broken up into two parts: one where you are allowed to use a calculator and one where you are not. The ACT, on the other hand, only has one math section, which you are allowed to use a calculator for the entirety of. If you struggle with doing calculator-free math, the ACT may be more suited to you.

Amount of Math

The fact that the SAT has two separate math sections, the calculator and non-calculator section, means that math makes up for a significantly larger portion of your total score on the SAT than on the ACT. On the SAT, math makes up for half of your total score, while on the ACT math accounts for only one fourth of your total score. If you’re a math whiz and you think more math is likely to boost your score, the SAT is likely a good fit for you. If you balk at the thought of doing more math than you have to, choose the ACT.

Science Section

The ACT includes a section entirely on science questions, while the SAT has no science section at all. The SAT is not totally devoid of science, it does come up in the reading, writing, and math sections, but it doesn’t have a section devoted to science only, whereas the ACT has a significant science section that accounts for one fourth of your total score. If you love science and think that a science section is likely to boost your grade, go for the ACT.

Prep Right and Score High

Whether you choose to write the SAT or the ACT, the most important thing is to learn how to approach either test with a smart mindset that allows you to logically approach each question and find the right answer. Language Power’s test prep programs teach you the skill of tactical thinking, which will give you the confidence you need to excel in both the SAT and the ACT and get the score you want.

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