The SATs and the ACTs, What’s the Difference Anyhow?

The SATs and the ACTs, What's the Difference Anyhow?

Leslie Ramirez, Contributor, Exam Master

Teachers have been talking about this day since you first entered middle school, perhaps even before that. You didn’t know it was around the corner and now you’re lost. What do you do? Where do you go? How do you prepare? You study hard and work diligently (at least some of us do anyway) to mentally and physically prepare yourself for one of the most important tests you’ll take throughout your life.

Yes, I’m talking about the SATs and ACTs. Many juniors, even after their meetings with  guidance counselor to discuss testing, seem to be confused between the differences of the two. Luckily you’ve found this article, made by a student to help you in your time of need.

The SATs and ACTs are not that different from each other. Both tests tend to be requirements for many colleges. Each test measures student’s abilities in different areas such as reading comprehension and mathematical ability. Since colleges accept test scores from either exam, you really do not need to worry which one to choose, one is just as valid as the other.

There’s just a few minor differences between the both. Both tests are timed, but the SAT gives you a bit more than the ACT.  The ACT also has a section devoted to science while the SAT does not. Therefore, if you are someone who understands and enjoys science courses, the ACT might be a good idea. The section focuses on scientific data, graphs, and hypotheses and consists of 40 questions. The SAT has a few subsections where calculators are allowed for math, but in the ACT, calculators are allowed throughout the whole math section. In the math section of the SAT, the focus is primarily on algebra, meanwhile the ACT focuses on geometry. Math scores take up one fourth of your total score for the ACTs but half for the SATs. If math is not your favorite subject, you should try looking into taking the ACT. That being said, all math questions in the ACT are multiple choice, no fill ins and no open response.  

For the reading section, the SAT has all questions in chronological order but on the ACT, questions can flow randomly. There is one more difference between the two, writing an essay. The SAT does not focus on opinion but more on evidence to support your reasoning. Essay prompts for the SAT will often ask the reader to deconstruct and explain an argument instead of craft one themselves. In the ACT, you will have greater liberty to share your own ideas and feelings on a subject.

Despite these differences between the tests, one is just as challenging as the other. If you are preparing for either test, there are books that have practice questions, private classes to take, or online websites like Khan Academy to help you out. If you do not know the test dates here are two links to help you out as well. Good luck to any student who is planning to take the test!


SAT Dates:


ACT Dates: