What is the difference between the ACT and SAT?

Comparison of the ACT Test and SAT (current and new) from ACT


CategoryCurrent ACTCurrent SATNew SAT
Test Fee $39.50
$56.50 (with writing)
$54.50 $43.00
$54.50 (with essay test)
Total Testing Time*

*Redesigned SAT testing time subject to research
2 hours and 55 minutes (plus 30 minutes for the Essay [optional]) 3 hours and 45 minutes 3 hours (plus 50 minutes for the Essay [optional])
  • ACT mathematics test (60 items, 60 minutes
  • ACT reading test (40 items, 35 minutes)
  • ACT science test (40 items, 35 minutes)
  • ACT English test (75 items, 45 minutes)
  • ACT writing test (optional; 1 prompt, 30 minutes)
  • Mathematics (54 items, 70 minutes
  • Critical Reading (67 items, 70 minutes)
  • SAT Writing Test
    • Essay (mandatory; 1 prompt, 25 minutes)
    • Multiple-Choice (49 Items, 60 minutes
  • Math (58 items, 80 minutes)
  • Evidence-Based Reading and Writing
    • Reading Test (52 items, 65 minutes)
    • Writing and Language Test (44 Items, 35 minutes)
  • Essay (optional; 1 prompt, 50 minutes)
Important Features
  • Designed to measure academic achievement in English, mathematics, reading, and science.
  • Scores based on the number of correct answers. No penalty for incorrect answers.
  • Includes enhanced scoring for reliable college and career planning insights:
    • STEM Score
    • ELA Score
    • Progress Toward Career Readiness Indicator
    • Text Complexity Progress Indicator
  • Emphasis on general reasoning skills
  • Emphasis on vocabulary, often in limited contexts
  • Complex scoring (a point for a correct answer and a deduction for an incorrect answer; blank responses have no impact on scores)
  • Continued emphasis on reasoning.
  • Greater emphasis on the meaning of words in extended contexts and on how word choice shapes meaning, tone, and impact.
  • Scores based on the number of correct answers. No penalty for incorrect answers.

Score Reporting

*Redesigned SAT scores subject to research

  • ACT Composite Score: 1–36 (average of four test scores)
  • ACT English test: 1–36
  • ACT reading test: 1–36
  • ACT mathematics test: 1–36
  • ACT science test: 1–36
  • ACT English and writing test: 1–36
  • STEM Score: 1-36
  • ELA Score: 1-36
  • Scale ranging from 600 to 2400
  • Scale ranging from 200 to 800 for Critical Reading; 200 to 800 for Mathematics; 200 to 800 for Writing
  • Essay results scaled to multiple-choice Writing
  • Scale ranging from 400 to 1600
  • Scale ranging from 200 to 800 for Evidence-Based Reading and Writing; 200 to 800 for Math; 2 to 8 on each of three traits for Essay
  • Essay results reported separate

Another Comparison of the SAT and the ACT from the College Board


Test Snapshot
FeaturesNew SATACT
Widely accepted Almost all U.S. colleges Almost all U.S. colleges
Major redesign 2016 SAT is based on the latest research on the skills colleges value most. No recent significant revisions.
Tests the vocabulary you’ll use Yes Yes
Everyday math formulas provided Yes No
Essay is optional Yes Yes
Penalty for guessing No No
Cost $54.50 ($43 without essay) $56.50 ($39.50 without essay)
Free Practice
ResourcesNew SATACT
Free daily practice questions Yes, the free mobile app, Daily Practice for the New SAT. Yes
Free comprehensive test practice Yes, through Khan Academy®, with over 4,000 questions and video lessons. No
Free, downloadable practice tests Yes No
Mobile app that instantly scores paper tests Yes, Daily Practice for the New SAT. No
ScheduleNew SATACT
Test days 7 times a year 6 times a year
Regular registration deadline About 4 weeks before test day. You pay a late fee for registering later. About 5 weeks before test day. You pay a late fee for registering later.
Late registration closes About 11 days before test day 20+ days before test day
Fee Waivers
Benefits and RulesNew SATACT
Test fees waived for eligible students Yes Yes
Waivers cover late fees Yes No
Miss the test, forfeit your fee waiver No Yes
Four college application fee waivers sent directly to eligible students Yes No
Test Format
Structure and TimingNew SATACT
Testing time 3 hours
+ 50-minute essay (optional)
2 hours 55 minutes
+ 40-minute essay (optional)
Structure 3 tests + optional essay 4 tests + optional writing test
Number of questions 154 215
Time per question 1 minute, 10 seconds 49 seconds
Score range Composite 400–1600 (SAT Essay: reported in 3 dimensions, each 2–8) Composite 1–36 (writing domain scores: 2–12)
Test length and timing

Reading Test
65 minutes
52 questions

Writing and Language Test
35 minutes
44 questions

Math Test
80 minutes
58 questions

Reading Test
35 minutes
40 questions

English Test
45 minutes
75 questions

Math Test
60 minutes
60 questions

Science Test
35 minutes
40 questions

St. Ignatius College Preparatory

Courage to Lead; Passion to Serve

2001 37th Avenue San Francisco, CA 94116
(415) 731-7500
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