Which Test should I take and Why?

All colleges and universities in the U.S. accept both SAT and ACT scores for admissions to undergraduate programs and consider these scores an important factor in assessing student applications. Hence most students expend considerable time and resources preparing for either the SAT or the ACT while some students prepare for both.

Although both the standardized tests are comparable, your performance on each test depends on several factors and can differ significantly. This blog will help you understand the nuances of both the tests.

Consider the following factors:

  • Reading Skills
    Your performance on the reading section depends on your reading and comprehension skills and speed as all the questions are based on the content and structure of the given passages. The questions on the reading section of the SAT require a deeper understanding of the text and its implicit meaning and finding evidence in the passage, while the questions on the ACT reading test are comparatively more direct and less complex; however, students are often unnerved by the Reading Test on the ACT as the section involves reading four long passages and answering 40 questions in 35mintues.
  • Mathematical Aptitude
    The Mathematics section of the ACT covers a wider range of advanced mathematical concepts, while SAT Math focuses more on algebra, data analysis, and modeling. Additionally, the SAT Math sections include a list of Mathematical formulae, so you do not have to memorize them, which is not the case with the ACT. Another difference between the Math sections of the two tests is that out of the two Math sections on the SAT one bans the use of a calculator, while the ACT test has only one math section that permits the use of a calculator.
  • Science Terminology
    Besides Reading, English, and Mathematics, the ACT has an additional Science section. This section measures the interpretation, analysis, evaluation, reasoning, and problem-solving skills required in Biology, Chemistry, Earth/Space Sciences, and Physics. Although you will not be tested on you knowledge of Science, a good understanding of scientific language and terminology will provide you an edge. There is no separate Science section on the SAT.
  • Time Management
    On the SAT, you are required to answer 154 questions across four sections in three hours while on the ACT, you have to answer 215questions across four sections in 2hours and 55 minutes. The table below will help you understand the test formats and time allotted per question in each section.
EVIDENCE-BASED READING52-Questions (65 minutes)75 secondsENGLISH75Questions
36 seconds
WRITING & LANGUAGE44-Questions (35-minutes)48 secondsMATH60 Questions (60-minutes)60 seconds
MATH (NO-CALCULATOR)20-Questions (25-minutes)85 secondsREADING40 Questions (35-minutes)53 seconds
MATH (CALCULATOR)38-Questions (55-minutes)105 secondsSCIENCE40 Questions
53 seconds
ESSAY1 Essay (optional) (50 minutes)ESSAY1 Essay (optional) (40 minutes)
  •  Academic Calendar and Availability
    Both the tests are offered multiple times a year. Outside the United States, the SAT is offered four times (October, December, March, and May) while the ACT is offered five times (September, October, December, April, June.) Preparing for both the tests takes immense dedication and your decision should also depend on your availability and preparedness.
  • Others
    The English sections and Math sections on the SAT contribute equally (800 points each) to the composite score of 1600 while on the ACT, the English, Math, Reading, and Science sections each contribute one fourth to the composite score of 36.

A competitive SAT or ACT score will strengthen your college application and propel you one step closer to your dream college. Therefore, rather than relying on your classmates or seniors’ opinions, gauge your abilities in English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science by taking SAT and ACT diagnostic tests and select the standardized test that best aligns with your aptitude.



Niharika Sondhi
Niharika Sondhi
One of South Asia’s leading career consultants with 15 years of experience in guiding students to the best-fit schools in India and overseas. A member of the National Association of Academic Counselling (NACAC) and International Association for College Admission Counselling (IACAC) in the US, and having visited over 300 schools all over the world since 2004 (of which 20 are dedicated to Art & Design), Ms Sondhi’s motto is to offer Indian students quality academic counsel that has global relevance. If you need to consult, Book an Appointment

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