While neither test is easier or harder than the other, understanding the differences between the ACT and SAT can help you prepare for the college entrance exam. Both are accepted by colleges. However, the SAT is more popular with private schools and schools in the east and west, and the ACT is more popular with public schools and schools in the midwest and south. This year with the new SAT, there are now fewer differences in the structure of the tests. Below is a quick overview of the new SAT and how it differs from the ACT.
How did the SAT change?
- No penalty: Like the ACT, the SAT no longer has a penalty for wrong answers.
- Essay: The essay is now optional, just like it is on the ACT. However, some colleges may still require it. The prompt of the essay will require you to closely analyze a passage. You will have 50 minutes to write instead of the previous 25 minutes.
- Vocabulary: The vocabulary is now less obscure and more context based.
- Evidence: In the reading section, some of the questions ask you to choose a passage that supports your answer.
- Math: Many of the problems will require multiple steps to arrive at the answer. There are two math sections: one where you cannot use a calculator, and one where you can.
- Writing and Language: Rather than just correcting improper grammar, you are also asked to improve them.
Key differences between the SAT and the ACT
- Subjects: The ACT includes science, while the SAT does not. The SAT has an added emphasis on vocabulary and revising sentences in the grammar section, while the ACT’s grammar section is more focused on punctuation.
- Test style: The SAT focuses on real-world questions and multi-step problems. The wording of the ACT questions tend to be straightforward and less difficult to understand.
- Difficulty: The SAT questions increase in difficulty, while the ACT’s question difficulty level is random.
- Tools: The ACT allows a calculator on all math questions. The SAT allows a calculator on only some of the questions.
- Math: The SAT provides formulas. The ACT does not.
- Scoring: The composite SAT score is the sum of the sections. The ACT composite score is the average of the sections.
- Cost: The SAT costs $54.50 ($43 without essay). The ACT costs $56.50 ($39.50 without essay).
- Test days: The SAT is offered seven times a year, while the ACT is offered six times a year. The ACT registration deadline is earlier.
- Number of questions: The SAT has 154 questions (1 minute and 10 seconds per question). The ACT has 215 questions (49 seconds per question).