ACT® vs. SAT®

Both the ACT and the SAT are nationally administered, standardized tests that help schools evaluate your application and see how prepared you are for college courses.

Most colleges accept scores from either test, so you can take the test that’s right for you. Your college application journey is likely starting with the question, “Which test should I take?” Use this handy guide to help you decide:

Test Structure and Format




3 hours, 35 minutes (including the optional Writing Test, not including breaks)

3 hours, 50 minutes (including the optional Essay, not including breaks)


4 sections*

  • English
  • Math
  • Reading
  • Science

*Plus an Optional Writing Test

4 sections*

  • Reading
  • Writing and Language
  • Math without a Calculator
  • Math with a Calculator

*Plus an Optional Essay





You will receive a composite score on a 1–36 scale. This score is an average of your scores on the 4 multiple-choice test sections (each section is scored on 1–36 scale).

The optional Writing Test is not included in the composite score. You will receive 5 scores for the Writing Test: one overall score on a 2–12 scale and 4 domain scores, also 2–12, that are based on an analytic scoring rubric.

You will receive an overall score out of 1600. This score is calculated by adding your score on the Math section with your score on the Evidence-Based Reading & Writing section (each section is scored on a 200–800 scale).

The optional Essay is not included in the overall score. You will receive 3 scores for the essay: Reading, Analysis, and Writing, which are all on 2–8 scale.

Wrong Answer Penalty

No penalty for wrong answers.

No penalty for wrong answers.

Sending Score History to Colleges

You can decide which score is sent to colleges. Note: all scores from your selected test date are sent.

You can decide which score is sent to colleges. Note: all scores from your selected test date are sent.

Topics Covered




Key Ideas and Details
Craft and Structure
Integration of Knowledge and Ideas

Command of Evidence
Words in Context
Analysis in History/Social Studies and in Science


Preparing for Higher Math:

  • Number and Quantity
  • Algebra
  • Functions
  • Geometry
  • Statistics and Probability

Integrating Essential Skills

Heart of Algebra
Problem Solving and Data Analysis
Passport to Advanced Math
Additional Topics in Math


Interpretation of Data
Scientific Investigation
Evaluation of Models, Inferences, and Experimental Results

Science content is not tested on the SAT, but the test does measure your ability to interpret charts, infographics, and data on scientific topics in other sections.

A Science Insight Score, based on these abilities, is provided.

English/Writing and Language

Production of Writing
Knowledge of Language
Conventions of English

Optional Writing Test (essay)

Command of Evidence
Words in Context
Analysis in History/Social Studies and in Science
Expression of Ideas

Optional Essay


Optional final section, 40 minute testing time

Separate score, not included in composite score

Topic presents conversations around contemporary issues

Tests ability to argue a point of view in a clear way, using concrete examples

Optional final section
50 minute testing time
Separate score, not included in overall score
Topic comes from a 750-word passage to be read on test day
Tests reading, analysis, and writing skills

Upcoming ACT Test Dates

Make your application process go smoothly by deciding which exam you plan to take as early as possible. You’ll want to have enough time to prepare for your test, and you may even want to take the test multiple times to improve your score. With that in mind, the schedule of upcoming ACT test dates may also play an important role in your decision of which test to take. Don’t worry, we’ve compiled all the upcoming test dates to help you plan.



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