ACT vs SAT 2024 | Which Exam Offers Easier Path to a High Score?


One of the requirements for admission into US colleges for undergrad education is a good score on the SAT or ACT. Both these tests evaluate the aptitude and college readiness of the students. The scores from these tests are also considered for scholarship purposes. Any undergrad aspirant will have this dilemma: ACT vs SAT. To find the answer to this question, we should know both tests‘ structure and content.

What are the similarities between SAT and ACT?

  1. Assessment of College Readiness: Both exams test the students’ verbal and math skills and relate these to their college readiness.  
  2. No penalty for wrong answers – There is no negative marking for incorrect answers. The students can make educated guesses.
  3. Calculator – Both tests let students use a calculator in the math section. On the SAT, the students have the option of using online calculators too.
  4. Number of Administrations – Both ACT and SAT are administered seven times a year.
  5. Sending Score reports- The first four reports can be sent free of cost to the colleges.

Though there are similarities between the ACT and SAT, let us look at what are the differences between them and choose the one that matches your strengths. 

ACT vs SAT Structure and Timing

ACT Structure

Order of the section  Section/ Test  No. of questions  Time Allotted  No. of Answer options 
1  English  75  45 minutes  Multiple Choice, 4 answers 
2  Math  60  60 minutes  Multiple Choice, 5 answers 
3  Reading  40  35 minutes  Multiple Choice, 4 answers 
4  Science  40  35 minutes  Multiple Choice, 4 answers 
5  Writing  1  40 minutes  Essay prompt 

The ACT exam is for 2 hours and 55 minutes without the essay. The essay session is for 40 minutes. There will be a 15-minute break after the Math section and a 5 –5-minute break before the optional Writing section. Other than on the Math, you have less than a minute per question in the other sections.

 SAT Structure

Section/ Test  Modules  # of questions  Time Allotted  Question types 
Reading and Writing  Module 1  27  32 minutes  Multiple Choice Questions with 4 answer options. 
Module 2  27  32 minutes 
Math  Module 1  22  35 minutes  75% of the questions are multiple-choice with 4 answers 

25% are student-produced responses 

Module 2  22  35 minutes 


  1. On the other hand, the SAT is for 2 hours and 14 minutes with a 10-minute break between the Reading and Writing and the Math sections. On the Verbal, students get 1.19 minutes per question while on the Math they get 1.59 minutes. 
  2. Scoring on the test – On the ACT, the student gets a score of 1- 36 in each section. The final score is the average score of the four sections. The students get a separate score on the Writing section that ranges from 1 – 12. On the SAT, both the sections are scored on a range of 200-800. The final score is the sum of the two sectional scores and ranges between 400-1600.
  3. Science – ACT has a separate section dedicated to science. This section tests your ability to understand experimental setups, analyze data from charts, and identify conflicting views. There can be passages similar to the ones you will see in the Reading test. However, in the SAT, the science concepts appear throughout the RW and Math sections. If interpreting charts is not your cup of tea, then the SAT would suit you better. Both the tests do not require you to have in-depth science knowledge.
  4. Math – Both ACT and SAT cover high school math, but the questioning style and topic emphasis are different. 25% of questions on the SAT are Student-produced response questions type where the students have to solve the question and key in the answer. SAT covers higher-level concepts like imaginary numbers, while ACT has a healthy number of questions from Geometry and Trigonometry. Both the tests focus more on Algebra. While the SAT has long questions, the ACT has shorter ones. SAT questions may require you to have in-depth calculations, but in ACT math questions you can easily eliminate answers. Also, if Math is your forte, the SAT will be better because 50% of the score on the test comes from the Math section.
  5. Reading and Writing on the SAT vs English and Reading on the ACT – On the SAT you have combined modules that carry questions from Reading and Writing. On the ACT, however, you have separate sections for English and Reading. On the SAT the questions are discreet, that is you have one question per text. Both the English and Reading sections on the ACT have long passages. SAT has poetry-based questions too which are absent in the ACT.
  6. Writing (only ACT) – The ACT has an optional essay section called Writing. If you have good critical thinking and writing skills, you may choose to write the essay. This essay will tell the admissions committee about your ability to build an argument and support your views. A good Writing score can also help with scholarship opportunities. On the flip side, not many colleges ask for the Writing score.
  7. Admissions into Indian Colleges – Some colleges in India accept SAT scores for admissions. Good scores on the SAT can fetch scholarships. ACT scores on the other side are not accepted in Indian colleges.

Which is the easiest one, ACT or SAT?

There is nothing like an easier test. It would be best if you played on your strengths and weaknesses to decide which one works for you. Finding out the easier of the two is a myth. You can use some pointers like do advanced math topics scare you or do you need more time to work on a particular question to decide what works for you. 

Take a mock test 

If you are still unsure which one to go with, take a mock test. Based on the scores you get and your ease with taking the tests should help you decide which one to go with. There is nothing like a bad decision because both tests are equally accepted in all US colleges. 

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What is superscoring on SAT and ACT?

The colleges will accept the highest scores across different sections on the SAT exams administered on different days. For instance, if you scored 800 on Math and 600 on verbal on your first SAT attempt and a score of 780 on math and 720 on verbal on your second attempt, then after Superscoring, the colleges would consider 800 on the Math and 720 on the Verbal to be your scores. 

Is it ok to slip questions on ACT and SAT?

Yes, you can skip questions on the test. Since there is no negative marking, you can guess rather than skip questions.

What are the fees for ACT and SAT in India?

The ACT costs $176.50 without the essay. To take the test with an essay costs another $25The SAT on the other hand costs $104.

When will you get the official scores for SAT and ACT?

The candidates will get the scores in two weeks.

Can Pre-ACT scores be used for admissions?

Pre-ACT is for practice purposes only. These scores can help in fetching scholarship awards.

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