SAT, ACT, both, neither? Most colleges accept SAT or ACT scores, so you may wonder if you should take the SAT, ACT or both exams. On the flip side, you may find that if you take the ACT, you still need to take SAT subject tests.

The SAT was designed as an aptitude test — it tests your reasoning and verbal abilities, not what you’ve learned in school. In fact, the SAT was supposed to be a test that one could not study for — studying does not change one’s aptitude. The ACT, on the other hand, is an achievement test. It is meant to test what you have learned in school. However, this distinction between “aptitude” and “achievement” is dubious. There’s concrete evidence showing that you can study for the SAT, and as the tests have evolved, they have come to look more and more like each other.

Many students score similarly on the ACT and SAT. However, the tests do assess different information and problem solving skills, so it’s not unusual to do better on one exam than the other. Key exam differences are outlined below.

Length 3 hours, 45 minutes 3 hours, 25 minutes (includes optional Writing Test): English, Math, Reading, Science, Writing
Sections 10 Sections: 3 Critical Reading, 3 Math, 3 Writing (including Essay), 1 Experimental (not scored) 4 Sections (plus optional Writing Test): English, Math, Reading, Science, Writing
Subjects Critical Reading, Math, Writing English, Math, Reading, Science, Writing (optional)
Reading Reading passages with questions pertaining to comprehension and sentence completion 4 passages, 10 questions per passage
Science N/A Science (analysis, knowledge, problem solving)
Math Arithmetic, geometry, algebra, and algebra II Arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and trigonometry
Essay Required Optional (final section)
Score Composition 1/3 Math, 1/3 Reading, 1/3 Writing 1/4 English, 1/4 Math, 1/4 Reading, 1/4 Science
Scoring Aggregate score 600 – 2400 based on total of 3 scores 200- 800 (Reading, Math, Writing) Score of 0-12 for Essay Composite score 1-36 based on average of 4 sections (English Math, Reading Science) Score 0-12 for Optional Essay
Penalties Penalties (typically ¼ point deducted) for wrong answers No penalties for incorrect answers
Score Choice Student may choose which set(s) of SAT scores to submit to colleges but submission must be consistent with college SAT score choice policy Student decides which scores are sent
Additional Information