ACT® vs SAT Reasoning Test™

The ACT and the SAT Reasoning Test are both exams created to measure a student's readiness for college-level academic work. They are used by college and university admissions departments to compare students across schools and regions by using a single, standardized test.

Test Basics

The ACT is offered six times per academic year: September, October, December, February, April and June. The SAT Reasoning Test is offered seven times: October, November, December, January, March, May and June; however, starting in the 2017-2018 school year the January date will be replaced by an August testing date.

The mandatory portion of the ACT is two hours and 55 minutes, while the SAT Reasoning Test is three hours long. Both exams have an optional essay. The ACT Writing Exam adds 40 minutes to the total testing time; the SAT Reasoning Test Essay is 50 minutes long.

The standard ACT costs $42.50 while the standard SAT Reasoning Test costs $45. The ACT with optional Writing Test costs $58.50; the SAT Reasoning Test with optional Essay costs $57.

Both the ACT and the SAT Reasoning Test are offered in many locations across the country and around the world. Testing centers are typically located in high schools, though not every center offers the exams on all possible test dates. You can search for testing centers for both exams online.

Both exams also offer online registration as long as you can upload a passport-type photo and pay by credit card.

What Is On the Tests

The standard ACT consists of four sections:

  • The English Test
  • The Mathematics Test
  • The Reading Test (includes Social Studies, Science and Humanities passages)
  • The Science Test

The standard SAT Reasoning Test consists of three sections:

  • The Reading Test
  • The Writing and Language Test
  • The Math Test

Both exams also have an optional essay.

The ACT tests knowledge in core academic subject areas and packs many questions into each section, which leaves some students feeling crunched for time. The ACT also requires more in-depth understanding of science. The SAT Reasoning Test focuses on the application of academic skills to new material, and the wording of questions can be tricky.

How the Tests Are Scored

Both exams are scored on a scale so student scores can be compared fairly. On the ACT, each subject test is scored on a scale of 1-36. There is also an ACT composite score, which is the average of the four subject test scores.

On the SAT Reasoning Test, each of the two section scores (one for Math, the other for Reading, Writing and Language) ranges from 200-800. The total test score is added together on a scale of 400-1600.

Neither the ACT nor the SAT Reasoning Test have penalties for leaving a question blank or for incorrect answers. This means that students are now encouraged to guess rather than leaving any answers blank.

Retaking the Tests

Both the ACT and the SAT Reasoning Test allow students to choose their best overall score by test date to send to colleges; however, students cannot mix and match their scores from different sections of the exam taken on different dates.


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