SAT & ACT: A Comparison 

If you have the choice to take either the SAT I or the ACT (which, of course is dependent on the schools you wish to apply to) which should you take? Depending on your strengths and weaknesses, you may perform better on one test than the other.  Below you will find a comparison of the two tests.


Tests critical reading, math skills, and writing

  • sentence completion
  • passage-based reading
  • number operations, algebra I, II, geometry, statistics, probability, and data analysis


  • ability to identify genre
  • relationships among parts of a text
  • cause and effect
  • rhetorical devices
  • comparative arguments
  • use of standard written English
  • knowledge of math course work
  • ability to reason mathematically

Required essay

3 hours and 45 minutes in length

Guessing penalty of a quarter-point


Tests English, math, reading, and science reasoning in 4 subtests, and an optional writing section

  • usage, mechanics, rhetorical skills
  • Algebra I & II, geometry, trigonometry
  • critical reading
  • reading passages from the social sciences, natural sciences, prose fiction, humanities
  • data representation, research  summaries, conflicting viewpoints (science)


  • knowledge and understanding of standard written English and rhetorical skills
  • knowledge and understanding of ninth through eleventh grade course work in math
  • reading comprehension across subject areas
  • reasoning and problem solving in biology, chemistry, physical, and earth and space science (some general-level science background is needed to understand the concepts)

Optional Essay

2 hours and 55 minutes in length

All multiple choice

Heavy focus on grammar; does not test spelling or vocabulary

No guessing penalty; only correct answers count