SAT vs ACT: What is the Difference & Which One is Right for You?


Subhashri Roy
Updated on Jun 12, 2023 10:44 PM IST

Wondering how the SAT vs ACT are different or if they are different at all? Check out a detailed comparison of the two most popular tests attempted by students applying to foreign universities.

SAT vs ACT: What is the Difference & Which One is Right for You?

SAT vs ACT: Are you a senior in high school preparing for college admissions abroad in countries like USA and Canada? If so, you have probably heard of the SAT and ACT examinations. The SAT and ACT are two well-known standardised examinations that can have a significant influence on your admission process. The SAT emphasises critical reading, writing, and arithmetic skills, whereas the ACT focuses on English, arithmetic, Reading, and Science Reasoning. Each exam has its own structure, time restriction, and scoring system, so understanding their forms and content is imperative.

Both tests offer advantages and disadvantages based on aspects such as test content, question kinds, and schedule. But what distinguishes them, and which one is best for you? Whether you are an avid reader or a logical thinker, this thorough article will provide you with the knowledge to pick between the SAT vs ACT, so increasing your chances of reaching your desired college admission goals. We also offer advice on how to select which exam best matches your talents and interests.

Also Reads:

What to Do After Taking the SAT and ACT Exams?

What is a Good SAT Score & How is it Calculated?

Popular US Universities Accepting Applications Without ACT/SAT Scores

Why Many US Universities Are No Longer Considering SAT/ACT Scores as an Admission Requirement

A Quick Overview of SAT vs ACT Exams

The SAT and ACT are both standardised examinations that are frequently utilised in the United States for college admissions. The SAT exam focuses on critical reading, writing, and arithmetic skills, whereas the ACT exam measures English, math, reading, and scientific thinking. Both tests have distinct frameworks, question kinds, and scoring systems, so it is important to grasp the differences between SAT vs ACT exams. When picking which test to take, consider factors such as topic, time, and personal strengths.

Finally, there is no unambiguous "better" test between SAT vs ACT exams. It is determined by the individual's strengths and interests. It is advised that you examine the prerequisites of your preferred institutions and take practice tests for both examinations to determine which one is ideal for you.

Given below are the basic points of comparison between the SAT and ACT. Have a look at it to get a fair idea of the two:




Why Is it Administered?

To check the readiness of the high school students for admissions

Adopted by the United States for admissions to universities and colleges

Full Form American College Testing SAT Reasoning Test

Conducting Body

ACT Inc.

College Board on behalf of Educational Testing Service (ETS)

Mode of Exam

Both Paper- and Computer-based


Total Time

2 hrs 55 mins without Writing

3 hrs 35 mins with Writing

3 hrs without an Essay

3 hrs 50 mins with Essay (Discontinued)






Writing (optional)


Writing and Language


Essay (optional)

Time Per Section

English: 45 mins

Math: 60 mins

Reading: 35 mins

Science: 35 mins

Writing (optional): 40 mins

Reading: 65 mins

Writing and Language: 35 mins

Math Calculator: 55 minutes

Math No-Calculator: 25 minutes

Essay (optional): 50 mins (Discontinued)

Total Number of Questions

English: 75 questions

Reading: 40 questions

Maths: 60 questions

Science: 40 questions

Writing (optional): 1 Question

Reading: 52 questions

Math Calculator: 38 questions

Math No-Calculator: 20 questions

Writing and Language: 44 questions

Essay (optional): 1 essay (Discontinued)


USD 52 without Writing

USD 68 with Writing

Without Essay- USD 49.50 + Non-US Regional Fee (USD 49)

With Essay- USD 64.50 + Non-US Regional Fee (USD 49)

Who Accepts Scores?

Accepted by all colleges and universities in the US and other countries

Accepted by over 800 universities in the US, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, etc.


Total score range: 1-36

Total score range: 400-1600

Scores Released Within

2 Weeks

1-2 Weeks

Top Participating Universities

Confused About Which Test to Take Between SAT vs ACT?

Similarities Between SAT vs ACT Tests

Before we get into the significant differences between the SAT vs ACT, let us take a brief look at the key parallels between the two examinations that assist candidates study abroad. While the exams do not cover the same topics, there are some parallels between SAT and ACT tests, such as:

  • Purpose: Both examinations function as standardised assessments that colleges and universities use to make entrance choices. They give a consistent assessment of a student's intellectual ability and preparation for college-level work.

  • Sections: The SAT and ACT both include multiple sections that test various topic areas. The SAT is divided into three sections: Reading, Writing and Language, Math (with and without a calculator), and an optional Essay component. The ACT comprises components on English, Math, Reading, Science, and an optional Writing section.

  • Timings: Both tests are timed, and students must finish each portion within the time allotted. Time management skills are essential for performing well on both assessments.

  • Test Preparation: Practise tests, study aids, internet resources, and coaching may all help students prepare for both examinations. Because both tests examine similar academic abilities, the skills and methods gained for one may frequently be transferred to the other.

  • College Acceptance: Most colleges accept both the SAT and the ACT, offering students the option of submitting either test for admission consideration.

While the SAT and ACT have similarities, it is equally important to grasp the differences between SAT vs ACT exams to make an informed selection about which exam to take based on individual talents and preferences.

SAT Vs ACT: Key Differences in Detail

While both the SAT vs ACT are standardised exams, they are very different in terms of assessing a student's competence and preparation for university. For decades, the SAT and ACT have been rivals. The SAT is a psychological test that assesses aptitude for learning, whereas the ACT is a placement test that indicates academic readiness and accomplishment. Let us examine some of the most significant differences between the SAT vs ACT exams.

SAT vs ACT Score Conversion

The SAT gives you a score between 400 and 1600, but the ACT gives you a score between 1 and 36. For students who want to compare SAT vs ACT scores, the College Board and the ACT organisation provide conversion charts that demonstrate how composite scores stack up. The data is given below in the table below.

SAT Scores

ACT Score Equivalent

























































SAT vs ACT Cost

The costs of the SAT vs ACT tests vary as well. The SAT costs approximately USD 52. The ACT exam alone costs roughly USD 55, and the optional writing test costs around USD 70. Other choices, such as late registration, may incur additional fees. Students may be able to take the SAT or ACT for free as a result of state funding or cost waivers.

Time Allotted to Each Question

The SAT exam duration is more compared to the ACT exam duration. There is at least a difference of 10 seconds between time per question in the exams the SAT gives more time per question than the ACT. The table added below breaks the same down into all the sections





75 sec/question

53 sec/question


No Calculator: 75 sec/question

Calculator: 87 sec/question

60 sec/question

ACT English/SAT Writing

48 sec/question

36 sec/question



53 sec/question

SAT vs ACT: Science Section

If you think that Science is not your strong suit, then you must take the SAT as it does not include a Science section like the ACT. However, the SAT may test your scientific knowledge under any of its sections in the form of passages, data, or charts.

The ACT, on the other hand, has a Science section that you would be required to complete in 35 minutes. In addition, the weightage of the Science section would also be equal to that of its reading section.

SAT vs ACT: Math Section

The major point of contradiction between the two tests is that the SAT Math section is divided into two portions: Math Test Calculator and Math Test No Calculator, unlike the ACT Math section.

The SAT tests your problem-solving skills in all sorts of situations revolving around your college math, science, and social science courses, the jobs you do and your personal life. On the contrary, the math section in the ACT is aimed at testing the mathematical skills that you have gathered up to the beginning of the 12th standard.

SAT vs ACT: Frequency of Test

As of 2022-23



June, July, September, October, and April

August, October, December, March, May, and June

SAT vs ACT: Difficulty Level

The difficulty levels of both tests are somewhat similar. That being said, it would significantly depend on what your weaknesses and strengths are. For instance, if you are confident that you can score well in Science, then the ACT is certainly the right fit for you.

Again, as mentioned earlier, the SAT gives you more time for each question under each section.

SAT vs ACT: Essay Content

In the SAT, the writing assignment will ask you to analyse a text and explain how the writer makes an argument to persuade an audience. The same shall be supported by evidence from the given passage and completed within 50 minutes.

The ACT writing test will be 40 minutes long consisting of one prompt. What you would be asked to do here is read the prompt and write an essay explaining your own stand on the given issue. It will be scored on the basis of the perspective you build and express in the essay.

Duration of SAT vs ACT Exams

The duration of the SAT is longer than the ACT, at three hours and 50 minutes with the essay and three hours without the essay. On the other hand, the ACT is three hours and 35 minutes long with the writing section, and two hours and 55 minutes without the essay. Given below is the section-wise distribution of time:



English: 45 mins

Math: 60 mins

Reading: 35 mins

Science: 35 mins

Writing (optional): 40 mins

Reading: 65 mins

Writing and Language: 35 mins

Math Calculator: 55 minutes

Math No-Calculator: 25 minutes

Essay (optional): 50 mins

SAT vs ACT: Which Test is Easier?

Understandably, this is one of the most frequently asked SAT vs ACT exam questions. Most test takers prefer to take the easier of the two tests in order to increase their chances of getting a high score to study abroad. Some think that the ACT is easier because it results in a lower total score, but others believe that the SAT exam is easier. However, international colleges use both of these assessments as academic metrics to compare eligible students for their respective programmes. Furthermore, the levels of complexity and challenge are comparable in both exams. Most colleges will agree that both exams are equally difficult.

Which is the Right Test to Choose Between SAT vs ACT?

The decision between the SAT vs ACT is influenced by a variety of factors, including individual strengths, preferences, and college requirements. When picking which test to take, keep the following fundamentals or factors in mind:

  • Familiarity: Take practice examinations for both exams to see which format and question kinds work best for you. Choose the exam on which you feel most at ease.

  • Content: Evaluate your knowledge in several topic areas. The SAT emphasises critical reading and writing, but the ACT includes a component on scientific reasoning. Choose the exam that best matches your skills.

  • Timing: Consider your ability to manage your time efficiently. The ACT moves quicker, with more questions to answer in less time. It may be a better fit if you operate well under time constraints.

  • College Admission Criteria: Research the admission criteria of the colleges to which you intend to apply. Determine if they favour one test over the other or whether they accept both equally.

Finally, there is no such thing as a "right" exam between SAT vs ACT to choose. It is all about picking the exam that allows you to properly demonstrate your talents and do your best.

Should I Take the Optional Essay?

Taking both the SAT and ACT exams is optional unless required or encouraged by the universities to which you are applying. While some students may want to take both examinations to examine their alternatives, this can be time-consuming and costly. Instead, concentrate on learning the differences between SAT vs ACT exams and selecting the one that best matches your skills, interests and the university’s admission criteria. 

It is also important to devote adequate time and money to exam preparation to attain the best potential result. Admissions committees take your best result into account, so a well-prepared single exam can be as beneficial in the college application process.

Should I Take Both SAT and ACT?

Taking both tests comes with a number of advantages. Find out what the advantages are:

  • Submitting scores on both tests gives universities more information about you.

  • You can make an informed decision while sending your scores to colleges and choosing the one that shows your strengths more.

  • Many US colleges or universities offer scholarships on the basis of scores on both the ACT and SAT.

  • Some institutions accept scores of both tests, which allows you more flexibility in case you score low in one of the subject tests.

  • Taking both tests definitely makes way for more options and eventually deciding on which university to say Yes to.

If you have further queries about SAT vs ACT exams to study abroad, please write to our experts at

Know Which Universities Are Accepting SAT/ACT Scores!


Which countries accept ACT scores for admission?

There are many study abroad destinations that accept ACT scores for admission to their bachelor's courses. Some of them are the US, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UAE. International students can check out the eligibility criteria of their chosen university and identify the minimum requirement ACT score to apply for admission.

Which universities can be applied to for admission with SAT scores?

There are various foreign universities that can be applied to for admission with SAT scores. Some of the best foreign universities accepting SAT scores for admission to their bachelor's courses are Harvard University, Brown University, University of Cambridge, Australian National University, University of Sydney, University of Toronto, University of British Columbia, UCLA, and the University of Adelaide.

Can I apply with ACT scores to US universities instead of SAT scores?

Yes, you can apply to US universities with ACT scores instead of SAT scores. Both, ACT and SAT have recognised aptitude tests for higher education in the US. There may only be a handful of universities that prefer one test over another. The majority of the US universities accept both test scores, ACT and SAT, for admission to their bachelor courses.

Which subjects are tested by the ACT test?

The subjects tested by the ACT test are English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science. All four subjects are tested in different sections in a multiple-choice format. Students attempting the ACT test are required to answer the whole test within two hours and 55 minutes. There is a provision of an additional 40 minutes for students who have for ACT Writing test as well.

Can I take both ACT and SAT?

Yes, you can take both ACT and SAT. Both the aptitude tests are based on the same level of concepts. In fact, the ACT syllabus and SAT syllabus have a lot of common topics as they test the same level of aptitude. Students who wish to appear for both tests need to properly plan their test dates, so that ACT and SAT test dates and their respective test preparation do not clash with each other.

What is the maximum score possible for the ACT?

The maximum score possible for the ACT test is 36. The overall ACT scores and section-wise ACT scores for Reading, Mathematics, English, and Science are scored on a 1-36 scale. While the optional ACT writing test is scored on a scale of 2-12. The overall ACT score is derived by averaging the individual ACT scores of each section except ACT writing. 

What is a good SAT score to get admission to top foreign universities?

A good SAT score to get admission to top foreign universities depends on the eligibility criteria of each university. However, in order to get admission to the best universities, students will require their SAT score to lie in the range of 1400-1600. The maximum SAT score possible is 1600.

What is the cost of the ACT test?

The cost of the ACT test is USD 150. Students who opt to take the ACT writing test as well have to pay an ACT registration fee of USD 166.50. These costs are relevant only for exam registration and requests for other services like test date change, test centre change, etc., will cost additional fees. A late registration fee of USD 35 will also be applied in case of registration after the application deadline.

How much does SAT exam cost for Indian students?

The registration for SAT exam will cost Indian students approximately INR 8,010. The testing authority for SAT test charges a fee of USD 52 to register for the exam and an additional USD 49 from non-US students as a non-US regional fee. The amount is bound to differ according to the currency exchange rates.

How can I prepare for SAT test?

You can prepare for SAT test with the help of books, SAT practice tests, and SAT question papers. These materials will prove extremely helpful in scoring high on the exam. You can plan your SAT preparation by following some handy tips. You can also register for our test-prep services to prepare under the guidance of the best study abroad test experts.

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