What do you think is the better choice between the ACT and the SAT? These are the factors that will decide it!

The time for college applications is drawing nearer. You’ve decided on your top choices for schools and a few safety options. Maybe you’ve even started brainstorming your admission essay and have got a rough draft or two down. Things are looking good. But wait, there is one more thing! That’s right; it’s those pesky-standardized tests. The SAT and ACT reign supreme in college admissions testing, and when it comes time to apply for college, most students take one or the other to boost their likelihood of getting into the college of their dreams. As a leading figure in the world of online test prep, we at Zinkerz have an intricate familiarity with the ins and outs of both tests. But, for those who don’t think excessively about standardized exams, you may wonder, “What’s the difference between these tests? And which one should I be taking?” These are both excellent questions, but not necessarily the most straightforward.

First, let’s make a basic comparison:

As you can see right off the bat, there are some significant differences between the two tests. But let’s break these differences down, shall we?






3 hours and 15 minutes

2 hours and 55 minutes (longer with essay)

Subjects Covered

  • Reading 
  • Writing and Language
  • Math with calculator
  • Math without calculator
  • English
  • Math
  • Reading
  • Science
  • Optional essay



$60 ($85 with the optional essay)

Reading Section

5 passages, 52 questions

65 minutes

5 passages, 40 questions

35 min

Writing and Language/English

4 passages, 44 questions

35 minutes

5 passages, 75 questions

45 minutes


58 questions

80 minutes

60 questions

60 minutes



6 passages, 40 questions

35 min



Optional Essay

One thing you may notice from the information in the chart is that the ACT offers an additional essay component. The SAT previously provided a similar test but did away with it, along with its optional subject tests, in winter 2021. You may already wonder, is this essay worth it? Well, that depends. A select handful of schools still require this exam component for admissions. However, for most, it can be a bonus but unnecessary. If you are a skilled writer, getting an extra score to tack onto your application may be worth it. But, if your writing skills are average, it might not be worth the spare time, effort, and $25.


One of the most significant differences between the SAT and ACT is how they are scored. On the SAT, the two English-related and two math-related portions of the test are worth 800 points each. The test, in its entirety, has a score range of 400–1600. Meanwhile, each ACT section has a score range of 1–36. The “composite” score (all sections averaged together) is similarly scored on a scale of 1–36.

How often is the test offered?

One thing that both tests have in common is that they are both offered seven times a year. However, these months do not always correlate with one another.


The SAT is slightly longer than the ACT, with more time per question, while the ACT is more fast-paced, with more questions, with much less time for each.


Anyone planning on taking one of these tests will be happy to know that all colleges accept both. However, the popularity of either within the United States often depends on where you live. For US residents, if you are living in the South, Southwest, or Midwest, your school will probably emphasize the ACT over the SAT. Likewise, you’ll likely be pushed more toward the SAT if you live along the Northeast, the east or west coast, or in an exceedingly populous state (ex: Texas and Illinois). It’s important to note that select states require one test over the other for students to graduate high school.

Breaking it down by section

Both the SAT and ACT Reading passages have similar formats, many similar question types, and similar topic areas (narratives, natural sciences, social studies, and humanities). However, there are also several key differences between them. First, the SAT has multiple “linked” questions based on a previous question, while the ACT Reading section does not. The SAT Reading section also has at least two passages with questions related to a figure (graph, chart, etc.), while the ACT excludes these. The SAT Reading section often includes narratives and historical passages written as far back as the 18th or 19th century, while they draw ACT passages from more recent sources. Perhaps most noticeably, ACT reading passages are longer than those on the SAT, with less time per question.

There are very few significant differences between the ACT English and the SAT English, Writing, and Language sections. The most notable difference is that the ACT English section has more questions than the SAT Writing section and less time to answer them. The ACT English section also typically asks students questions where they must consider each passage as a whole. While on the SAT, these types of questions are rare.

A vast difference between the SAT and the ACT is that the SAT contains two separate math sections, while the ACT only has one. Given this, math has a lower weight on the ACT, accounting for only 25% of the overall score, rather than the SAT’s 50%. In addition, the SAT includes a section where calculators are allowed and a section where they are not, while the ACT allows students to use a calculator throughout the entire math section. The SAT gives students more time to answer questions than the ACT and provides an added formula reference guide. Regarding question types, the ACT’s Math section is only made up of multiple-choice questions, while the SAT includes “grid in” questions, where students must write their answers. Both tests heavily emphasize algebra, but the ACT has more geometry and trigonometry-related questions than the SAT. The SAT also features more data analysis and graph-related questions, while the ACT contains matrices and logarithms and covers sequences that the SAT does not.


Including science, the section is vastly different between the ACT and the SAT. While the SAT Reading section will include science-oriented passages, the test has no science section. However, those thinking of taking the ACT but not considering science their most vital subject should know that very little understanding of science is required for this test. We can view this ACT part as another reading section with figures.

So, which test should you take?

First, if your school requires you to take one test over the other to graduate, this question is a simple decision: take the required exam. However, if you’re not required to take a specific test to graduate, one might be preferable, depending on your strengths.

If math is not your strong suit, and you consider yourself better at reading (significantly advanced academic texts), it may be worth taking the ACT, where math only counts for 25% of your score. If you excel at science, take the ACT since you might have an advantage when completing the Science section (even though, as previously mentioned, little prior understanding of science is technically required).

If math is your area of expertise, having 50% of the SAT devoted to math might make it perfect for you. The fewer challenging questions and inclusion of a reference table in the Math section might make this test even more appealing. Remember that if you choose SAT over ACT because you don’t consider yourself a strong reader, you’ll still be facing some challenging, potentially much older reading passages.

What might determine which test might be best for you is timing: the SAT offers more time per question, while the ACT has many more direct questions but offers less time overall. Therefore, the SAT might be a good choice if you struggle with timing. However, if the timing is something you rarely have trouble with, the ACT might be a good fit.

Still, wondering which test is best for you? Schedule a free consultation with Zinkerz today, and we’ll send you our SAT or ACT diagnostic test for no additional cost. Signing up for classes with one of our expert educators is an excellent way to ensure you’re 100% prepared for test day.

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