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ACT vs SAT: Key differences between the ACT and SAT

ACT vs SAT: which test is a better fit for your student? Students may take whichever test they prefer (assuming there are available testing locations for both tests). If you’re not sure which test your child would prefer, consider the key differences between the ACT and SAT. Some students find that the ACT caters to their strengths more so than the SAT, and vice versa.

Need a quick side-by-side comparison of the tests?  Check out our ACT vs. SAT Comparison Chart.

SAT vs. ACT
content-based test Type of Test content-based test
Reading: 1, 65-min section; Math: 1, 25-min section (no calculator) & 1, 55-min section (w/ calculator); Writing & Langauge: 1, 35-min section; Essay: 1, 50-min section (optional) Test Format English: 1, 45-min section; Math: 1, 60-min section; Reading: 1, 35-min section; Science: 1, 35-min section; Writing: 1, 40-min essay (optional)
reading, relevant words in context, math, grammar & usage, analytical writing (optional) Content Covered grammar & usage, math, reading, science reasoning, and writing (optional)
questions are evidence and context-based in an effort to focus on real-world situations and multi-step problem-solving Test Style straightforward, questions may be long but are usually less difficult to decipher
Math and Evidence-Based Reading & Writing are each scored on a scale of 200-800. Composite SAT score is the sum of the two section scores and ranged from 400-1600. Scoring English, Math, Reading, and Science scores will each range between 1-36.  Composite ACT score is the average of your scores on the four sections; ranges between 1-36
no – you do not lose points for incorrect answers Penalty for Wrong Answers? no – you do not lose points for incorrect answers
yes – you can choose which set(s) of SAT scores to submit to colleges Score Choice? yes – you can choose which set(s) of ACT scores to submit to colleges
questions increase in difficulty level as you move through that question type in a section (except reading passage questions, which progress chronologically through the passage) Difficulty Levels difficulty level of the questions is random
arithmetic, problem-solving & data analysis, heart of algebra, geometry, and trigonometry; formulas provided. Math Levels arithmetic, algebra I and II, functions, geometry, trigonometry; no formulas are provided
with private schools and schools on the east and west coasts; however, every four-year college in the US accepts SAT scores Tends to be more popular? with public schools and schools in the Midwest and south; however, every four-year college in the US accepts ACT scores
seven times per year: January, March or April, May, June, October, November, December Offered when? six times per year: February, April, June, September, October, December (note that some states offer the ACT as part of their state testing requirements; these tests are not administered on the national test dates)
typically about four weeks before the test date Registration deadline? typically about five to six weeks before the test date
ACT Scores for Utah Colleges (mid 50%)
Composite English Math
25% 75% 25% 75% 25% 75%
Brigham Young University 27 31 27 33 26 30
Dixie State University open-admissions
Southern Utah University 20 26 19 26 18 25
University of Utah 21 28 21 29 20 27
Utah State Universtiy 20 26 19 27 18 26
Utah Valley University open-admissions
Weber State University open-admissions
Western Governors University open-admissions
Westminster College 22 27 21 27 22 28
SAT Scores for Utah Colleges (mid 50%)
Reading Math Writing
25% 75% 25% 75% 25% 75%
Brigham Young University 570 690 580 680
Dixie State University open-admissions
Southern Utah University 460 570 450 570 440 550
University of Utah 500 640 520 650 490 610
Utah State Universtiy 470 590 450 590
Utah Valley University open-admissions
Weber State University open-admissions
Western Governors University open-admissions
Westminster College 495 620 500 620