SATs vs. ACTs

SATs vs. ACTs

If you’re a high school student applying to university in a couple of years, you may be familiar with the terms “SAT” and “ACT” already. If you’re a junior, you may already be studying for them, and if you’re a senior, you may have already taken them. In this article, we're going to be looking at specifically SATs versus ACTs

The SATs and ACTs are standardized tests that are widely popular and accepted by a majority of universities in the U.S. as well as in universities abroad in their university admission process. Many universities make the SAT or the ACT a required part of their application process.

So what exactly are the differences between the SATs and the ACTs? Would one should you take?

The SAT stands for “Scholastic Assessment Test” or “Scholastic Aptitude Test.” It is an examination managed by College Board, a private American corporation. The SAT is available at 7 different dates in a year. The ACT, on the other hand, stands for “American College Testing”. It was created by ACT, a non-profit organization. The ACT has 6 test dates in a year.

Exam Structure

The 2016 version of the SAT is a 3-hour examination that takes place on a single day. Students are also free to choose to take the SAT with essay portion, which adds an additional 50 minutes to the exam.

Students are asked to register for the exam and the chosen date in advance, and are given specific instructions and information about the test day. For the SATs, you’re only allowed to use a calculator on certain, pre-defined sections of the exam. The exam costs $43 to take, with the essay version costing $54.50.

The ACT is also a 3-hour exam, that extends onto 3 hours and 40 minutes if you choose to include a writing portion. The fee for the ACT is $39.50 without the essay writing portion and $56.50 including the writing portion. You can use a calculator in all sections for the ACTs.

Although they both have optional essay components, the task of the essays are quite different. The SAT’s essay portion is looking to determine your comprehension skills by supplying a piece of text. With this piece of text, you are to establish a position and supply your evidence for this position. For the ACT’s essay portion, they are attempting to find out how well you can decipher and break down a complex problem.


SAT scoring is tremendously different to ACT scoring. In the SATs, scores can range from 400 to 1600. These scores comprise of two sections, Mathematics and Critical Reading & Writing, which each make up 800 points from the 1600 full score. The average test score for the SAT is kept at around 1000 points out of 1600.

In the 2016 adaptation of the SATs, penalties for wrong answers were removed. Previously, if you ticked an incorrect answer - you would get points deducted.

In the ACT, there are four categories: Mathematics, Reading, English and Scientific Reasoning. Each category score can range from 1 to 36, and there are also sub-scores for some of the categories. Your final ACT score is an average between the scores from your different categories. The average score of the ACT is around 20 out of 36.

Similar to the SAT, the ACT also has an optional writing category that you can add onto your exam. And just like the SAT, the ACT has no penalty for incorrect answers.

The main variation between the categories of the ACT and the SAT is that the ACT includes a scientific reasoning section that tests critical thinking skills in students. It doesn’t ask for specific scientific knowledge - instead, it aims to see how students think and the steps they take to approach a problem.


Which to take?

At the end of the day, it is up to you to determine which exam fits best to you and your education. The exams have their similarities and their distinct differences - you have to ask yourself:

  • Am I generally a fast test taker?

  • Do I have fast mental math for non-calculator sections?

  • Am I a fast reader for critical reading portions?

  • Do I have good critical thinking skills for scientific sections?

With the answers to these questions, you will be able to determine which of the two tests may be better suited to your abilities.

If you’re real ambitious, you can also take both and go with the higher scoring one!

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