Preparing for College Admissions Tests: SAT vs ACT

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By Richard

Choosing between the SAT and ACT for your college admissions journey is an important decision, and it’s crucial to understand that there’s no universally “better” test. Both the SAT and ACT are accepted by colleges, so the choice ultimately depends on your unique abilities and preferences. In this article, we will explore the fundamental distinctions between these two tests and offer guidance on making an informed decision.

SAT vs. ACT: Understanding the Differences

The SAT and ACT have evolved over the years, and it’s essential to grasp their key disparities before selecting the right test:


  • Divided into Math, Reading, Writing, and an Optional Essay.
  • Total test time is 3 hours, with an additional 50 minutes if you choose to write the essay.
  • Scoring is out of 1600, with 800 each for Math and Reading/Writing.
  • Features two math sections, one with a calculator and one without, with a focus on algebra, data analysis, pre-calculus, trigonometry, and geometry.
  • Reading section includes five passages, some with charts and a historic document.
  • No dedicated science section, but science-related content is integrated.
  • Writing section consists of four passages and 44 multiple-choice questions.


  • Comprises English, Math, Reading, Science, and an Optional Essay.
  • Total test time is 2 hours and 55 minutes, with an extra 30 minutes for the essay.
  • Scoring is based on a scale of 36, with each section contributing to the composite score.
  • Math section features one 60-question section, allowing the use of a calculator throughout.
  • Reading section contains four long passages with questions presented in random order.
  • Dedicated science section assesses reasoning, charts, graphs, and hypothesis.
  • Essay involves evaluating one topic and three perspectives.

Who Should Consider the SAT?

The SAT may be a better fit if:

  • You excel in algebra, data analysis, and pre-calculus.
  • You need more time per question to perform well.
  • You require testing accommodations, as the College Board tends to be accommodating.

Who Should Consider the ACT?

The ACT could be more suitable if:

  • You have strong reading, writing, and scientific reasoning skills.
  • You’re adept at reading comprehension, even with longer and denser passages.
  • You can work efficiently with a calculator, as it’s allowed for the entire math section.

Effective Preparation for Both Tests

Regardless of your choice, both the SAT and ACT demand thorough preparation and the use of test-taking strategies. These strategies include pacing, answer elimination, and selective reading. Practice under timed conditions is crucial to become familiar with the format, timing, and the necessary strategies for each section.

The Importance of Diagnostic Testing

To make an informed decision, consider taking diagnostic tests for both the SAT and ACT. These practice tests allow you to compare your performance, identify strengths and weaknesses, and determine which test aligns better with your goals.


In conclusion, choosing between the SAT and ACT is a pivotal decision on your journey to college. It’s important to understand that both tests are widely accepted, and the choice should be based on your unique strengths and preferences. By comprehending the key differences and taking practice tests, you can make a well-informed decision, setting yourself on a path to success in the college admissions process.

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