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The two main standardized tests used by higher-education institutions are the SAT and the ACT. Although similar in purpose, these examinations have vast differences.


8 major differences between both the SAT and ACT






1) Time Difference 


With the essay included, both the ACT and SAT tests are about 4 hours long, the ACT is slightly shorter in, which means the SAT will give you more time per question than the ACT. Without the essay portion, both tests are around 3 hours long.  

2) Science section


The ACT contains an entire section on science, the SAT does not. If you love science and want to have an entire section focused on scientific data, graphs, and hypotheses, the ACT might be a better choice for you. 

3) Math Calculator 

In the ACT you can use a calculator on all Math questions, however, in the SAT there is a Math subsection where you can not use your calculator. If you’re a math wizard and can work fast without a calculator, the SAT might be better for you. 

4) Types of Math Questions 

Both will test your algebra, however, the ACT will test you more on geometry. The ACT will also test you on matrices, graphs of trig functions and logarithms. The SAT will not test you on these. 

5) Math Formulas


The SAT will provide a formula reference guide like this one. The ACT will not give you any formulas.

6) Multiple Choice Questions

In the Math section, the ACT will give you five possible answer choices (A-E) per question while the SAT will give you four (A-D). If you happened to be in a position where you had to guess, you would have a 5% greater chance of getting the question correct in the SAT. 

7) Grid-in Questions

Around 22% of Math questions in the SAT are grid-in questions. On the other hand, the ACT only asks multiple-choice questions. 

8) Final Score Calculation

On the ACT, every section will account for one-fourth of your total score. However, on the SAT, each section will account for half of your total score! So if you are not too good at math, for example, you’ll have a better chance of getting a higher composite score on the ACT than you will on the SAT.

How to Prepare for the tests

We highly suggest you complete a practice test for both the SAT and ACT before you take the actual exams. Either purchase or rent an official testing booklet for both the SAT and ACT and then set aside two 5-hour blocks on consecutive weekends to take each practice test. You will want to simulate the environment you will encounter on the day of the test. When you finish, use the booklets to score your exams, and then compare your scores using a online Concordance Table.

Test-Optional Colleges and Universities

Keep in mind that if you are definitely not a good test-taker, you can find over 1,000 universities that have a Test-Optional Policy. Meaning that some colleges will not require you to send them your SAT or ACT scores. You should only consider not sending your scores if you feel that it does not reflect an accurate representation of your academic history.

Fee Waivers

If you qualify, talk to you high school counselor for SAT and ACT fee waivers as each test can cost around $50 to $70. Do not miss the registration deadline, the late registration fee is $29 (in addition to the regular registration fee).

In conclusion, knowing these differences can help determine which one is right for you. Now you know how to prepare for both the ACT and SAT.

If you have any questions along the way, do not forget to comment or email us at

David Cantu

David Cantu

Best College Aid Founder and Instructor

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