The best way to choose between the SAT and the ACT is to take a full practice test for each exam. Each test presents unique challenges and one may suit your child better than the other.


  • ACT (paper) v. SAT (digital only)
  • Some ACT tests can ordered through Test Information Release while the SAT does not ever show you the questions that you missed
  • SAT is shorter (about 2 hours v. 3 hours)
  • SAT reading passages are shorter
  • ACT has a science section
  • SAT reading directly tests vocabulary, poetry and logical reasoning

The ACT has four sections:

  • English- 75 questions/45 minutes
  • Math- 60 questions/60 minutes
  • Reading- 4 long passages/40 questions/35 minutes
  • Science- 40 questions/35 minutes

The SAT has two modules each in the two sections:

  • Reading and Writing- 54 question/64 minutes- 1 question per passage/passages are short
  • Math- 44 questions/70 minutes

The SAT has an adaptive format: the second half of each section will be harder or easier depending on the student’s performance on the first half.

Both tests now have no guessing penalty, so always guess!

ACT English is similar to SAT writing. Both require the careful application of grammar and punctuation rules. These are coachable, so we expect SAT writing/ACT English scores to improve with practice. Students also need to learn editing strategies, such as when and where to add a sentence, paragraph order, and primary purpose.

SAT Reading now contains a variety of types of questions and is more challenging than ACT reading. Students will be asked to do vocabulary questions on the SAT. ACT Reading is more detail-oriented and less focused on the big picture. However, it is faster (one passage and 10 questions every 8 ½ minutes) and will present considerable difficulty to slow readers.

Both SAT and ACT math both allow calculators.  The ACT covers a wider range of mathematical topics but does so more directly and with less nuance.

The ACT has a science section that requires the interpretation of charts, graphs, and tables under time pressure. Science questions with charts and graphs are presented on the SAT in the Reading section.