#LifeGains: SAT vs. ACT: How Do I Choose Which One is Best for Me?


One of the most common questions we get regarding college admissions is whether taking the SAT or ACT is better. While it would be nice to give you a direct answer, it is really not that simple. Today, we will compare the two testing systems and help you determine which one is better for you.


Let's start with the basic structure of each test:

SectionsReading, Writing & Language, Mathematics, Optional EssayEnglish, Mathematics, Reading, Science, Optional Essay
Number of Questions154 questions215 questions
Time3 hours (+50 minutes for essay)2 hours 55 minutes (+45 minutes for essay)
Average Time per Question70 seconds49 seconds
ScoringScaled score out of 1600 (each section is added up)Scaled score out of 36 (average score of all sections taken)
Method of TestingPaper basedElectronic

Timing Issue

Evidentially, the ACT is slightly shorter than the SAT. However, as there are more questions on the ACT, you have less time to do each question. This means that test takers who are not fast readers may find that the SAT is more lenient.


The "Extra" Science Section

The ACT Science section is very similar to a Reading section. It only requires minimal scientific knowledge, and mainly tests you on reading comprehension of scientific tests. What does that mean? Well, it means that for slow readers, this is all the more reason to opt to take the SAT. As for those who feel like science is not their strongest suit? It means that you don't have to worry about not knowing "science". Rest assured, you can score highly on the ACT Science section without being into the sciences.


For Those Who are Good at Mathematics

Here is the good news for students who are good at mathematics: on the SAT, the mathematics section is 50% of your total score. This means that you can use it to make up for some points lost on the Reading or Writing & Language sections. If mathematics is one of your strong suits, then go for the SAT.


And of course, conversely, if mathematics is a weak area of yours, you may want to opt for the ACT, where the mathematics score is averaged into the rest of your scores. This means that your weaker mathematics score will not have such a great overall impact on your scaled score out of 36.

Improving Your Score

Another thing to note is about the scoring systems. Because the ACT averages the scores for each section to determine your final scaled score, it is more difficult to improve the score. In order to improve your score by 2 points overall, you would need to improve by a total of 8 points (2 per section). However, the SAT adds up the scores from each section, which means that to improve by 300 points, you would only need to improve by a total of 100 points per section.


Paper vs. Electronic Testing

Lastly, the method of testing. As of September 2018, the ACT has become an electronically administered exam. This means that no more paper-based exams will be given. This could be good or bad news depending on your personal preferences. For those who like to mark up passages and write notes on the margin, then you would probably prefer to take the SAT, which is still paper-based for now.


Which One Do Colleges Prefer?

You may have a preference already in your mind, but what is important at the end of the day is still which exam colleges "like" more. Fortunately, this is not something to worry about as all colleges and universities in the United States accept both tests.


Overall Verdict

So how do you pick which one to take? You may not want to hear this...but you never know until you try. The best method is to take a mock exam of each and see which one you perform better on. 

Let us know which one you decide to take and why in the comments below!

Need help preparing to tackle the essay section?


We've got your back for this one. Check out our list of tutors who can teach the SAT and ACT essay sections below.


For SAT tutors, click here!

For ACT tutors, click here!


    Our Websites

Copyright © AEI 2022 All Rights Reserved