SAT vs. ACT: Which Should I Choose?


So you’re applying to college. Good for you! As you may know, the college application journey is one full of many decisions that you will indeed have to make. You have been and will be faced with countless questions that you may not know the answers to (Do I want to go to a big university or small college? Which schools are reaches? Which are safeties? Should I participate in Greek life?)

And of course: SAT or ACT?

Now, this does not have to be a difficult dilemma. I personally suggest taking both tests once and going with the better score (if it’s not really obvious difference, take a look at a score conversion chart) and/or retaking whichever you did better on. However, you should still know a little about each exam so that you can figure out how they do or don’t comply with your own abilities.

So what are some major differences between the SAT and the ACT?

Type The SAT is considered an aptitude test, judging your reasoning and how you apply your knowledge. The ACT, on the other hand, is considered an achievement test, and evaluates what you have learned.
Penalty Random guessing is not advised on the SAT; you lose quarter of a point for each incorrect answer. On the ACT, there is no penalty for guessing.
Material The ACT has a Science section, whereas the SAT does not.
Code The SAT is known to have confusingly worded questions that are meant to deceive and fool you. The questions on the ACT are more straightforward and not as cryptic.


Writing The SAT’s mandatory 25-minute essay and the ACT’s optional 30-minute essay are both scored on a 2-12 scale. On the SAT, your essay is factored into your writing score. The essay on the ACT is not included in your writing score.

Time It’s a huge issue for almost everyone taking the ACT, which is known as a “speeded test.” So basically you’re racing the clock. You really have to know or learn how to pace yourself for both exams though. Time is not as big of an issue for the SAT.

Extra The SAT and ACT do extended time very differently. Let’s take those who get typical time-and-a-half accommodation. On the SAT, each section is longer. So the 20 minute Math section becomes 30 minutes, and so on. Accommodations are much harder to get for the ACT because it is supposed to be a speeded test. But for those who are granted 50% extended time, it works a little differently. Basically, you get either 5 hours or 5 hours and 45 minutes (depending on if or not you do the essay) and you have to pace yourself. For me, this was really great because I could spend a little more time on some sections and a little less time on others. But remember to pace yourself!

It is important to choose the test that best accommodates your testing style. If you have learned that the testing process does not reflect your ability, remember that there are test optional colleges you can apply to.

Once you’ve made your decision, be sure to check out our test prep section!