FAQs About the Differences Between the SAT and ACT Exams

By Huntington Learning Center

College just around the corner for your teen? There’s a lot to do to prepare, including take college entrance exams. When it comes to choosing the SAT or ACT, you might wonder how these exams differ and whether one is “better” for your teen than the other. Here are a few FAQs that will help you and your teen understand the differences between them:

  1. What do the exams measure? The SAT focuses on the skills that matter most for college readiness and success. The ACT measures skills that are most important for success in postsecondary education and that are acquired in secondary education. Both exams measure what students learn in high school.
  2. Are the sections on the SAT and ACT the same? Both exams have reading and math tests. The ACT has an English test and optional writing (essay) test, while the SAT has a writing and language test and optional essay. The ACT has a science test while the SAT has science elements throughout every section of the test.
  3. Is one exam longer than the other? Testing time on both exams is similar: three hours (plus a 50-minute optional essay) for the SAT and two hours, 55 minutes (plus a 40-minute optional essay) for the ACT.
  4. Can students use a calculator on the math portions? The SAT has a calculator section and a no calculator section on the math test. On the ACT, students can use a calculator on the whole math test.
  5. What are some of the other differences in the math sections (other than the calculator)? The SAT’s math test is 80 minutes and 58 questions, while the ACT’s is 60 minutes and 60 questions. On the SAT, some formulas are provided to exam-takers. Math is half of the total SAT score and just 25% of the composite ACT
  6. How many questions are on each exam? There are 154 questions on the SAT and 215 questions on the ACT. So, that’s a big difference between the SAT and the ACT: the amount of time per question. SAT exam-takers get an average of one minute, 10 seconds, per question, while ACT exam-takers get just 49 seconds per question on average.
  7. Are both exams accepted at all U.S. colleges?
  8. How often are the exams available? Both the SAT and the ACT are offered seven times a year. For the 2018-2019 school year, SAT dates were/are August 2018, October 2018, November 2018, December 2018, March 2019, May 2019, and June 2019, and ACT dates were/are September 2018, October 2018, December 2018, February 2019, April 2019, June 2019, and July 2019.
  9. What are the score ranges? On the SAT, total score range is 400-1600 (reading/writing is 200-800 and math 200-800). The essay test is scored on three dimensions, with scores ranging from 2 to 8. The composite is calculated by averaging scores (1-36 points possible on each of the four subject tests: math, science, English and reading). Writing is a separate score that ranges from 2 to 12.
  10. What is the best way to prepare for the SAT and ACT? Taking challenging courses in high school is the best way to prepare, since both exams are focused on what students learn in high school. Beyond that, individualized test prep guided by a customized study plan is the best way to get ready.

Huntington can help! Contact us at 1-800 CAN LEARN to discuss how we can help your college-bound student prepare for the SAT or ACT.