Updated: Dec 2, 2018
The SAT is a logic-based test first and foremost, while the ACT is aimed towards testing your knowledge in a more in-depth way. That being said, the new version of the SAT is basically an imitation of the ACT, which allows us to make straightforward comparisons section to section. Follow along below to see which test wins the ultimate showdown!
Reading Comprehension Section
The ACT is 40 questions in 35 minutes and the SAT is 52 questions in 65 minutes.
The ACT has four reading passages, while the SAT has five reading passages.
The ACT passages and questions are noticeably wordier than the SAT.
The SAT questions are slightly easier to read, to decipher, and to find the answer.
However, the SAT has linked questions that affect each other so if you miss one question you are getting both questions wrong. This is why the SAT loses this round.
The SAT has 44 questions in 35 minutes and the ACT has 75 questions in 45 minutes.
The ACT has five short 15 question passages and the SAT has four short 11 question passages.
Both tests have annoying types of questions. These questions require specific practice, preparation, and take more time to complete.
The flow of the SAT's grammar section is disjointed, poorly written, and has a terrible layout. Whereas the ACT's grammar section is simple and well laid out.
There is only one math section in the ACT. It is 60 questions in 60 minutes.
There are two math sections in the SAT. One section is 20 questions in 25 minutes and you cannot use your calculator. The second section is 38 questions in 55 minutes. Between both sections there is a total of thirteen student response questions which are not multiple choice. This pales in comparison to the straightforward ACT fully multiple choice test.
The ACT math section covers ALL math learned in high school. It is like an ultimate math final.
The SAT math is not inclusive of all math, and is more logic based and will try and trick you into thinking you do not know simple math.
You must memorize all mathematical formulas for the ACT while the SAT provides basic math equations at the beginning of both math sections.
Tie: There is no winner or loser here. It is simple. If you know advanced math and are good at math, the ACT is a walk in the park. You just need to practice. The SAT does not require as much math knowledge, but you have to be smart at identifying what the question is asking and play the SAT's game. Basically, if you like puzzles and you do not want to put that much time into studying, take the SAT. If you hate puzzles and just want to take a real math test, take the ACT.
There is no science section on the SAT. The science section is only on the ACT. I repeat, the science section does not exist on the SAT. We know who wins here.
The science section is simply data analysis rather than a test of your actual scientific knowledge from high school.
Practice can teach anyone to take this section, but it is an entirely extra section that has no equivalent on the SAT.
The ACT essay asks to write a five-paragraph essay on whether you like or dislike or agree or disagree with a topic. You must write this essay with three different perspectives. It is possible to have a basic essay prepared in advance for the ACT.
The SAT essay is more of a curveball. You will be asked to write a five-paragraph essay analyzing an article provided by the test. You will need to identify the topic, the author’s argument and the rhetorical devices utilized by the author.
The essay sections are optional on both tests and depend on whether or not the colleges you are applying to require a written section.
Both essays can be pre-written before you walk into the exam room. Click here to learn more about my SPIT method.
Overall, the ACT wins this ultimate showdown. However, it comes down to these two simple questions once again. Do you like puzzles? Take the SAT. Do you hate puzzles? Take the ACT