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Before you spend tons of time and money on either the ACT or SAT, you should make an informed decision based on many factors—in particular, the formatting and content of the tests. Although many students do roughly the same on the SAT and the ACT, there are plenty of students who have a statistical score difference on one test over the other and many students like the "feel" of one test better. 

    ACT   SAT
Score Range?  

1 - 36

Average score is about 21


400 - 1600

Average score will probably be about 1000

How is it scored?   The composite is the average of your English, math, reading, and science scores; each section is out of 36.  

200 - 800 for math section

100 - 400 for reading

100 - 400 for English

Scores added together. 

Total test time (without optional Essay)   2 hours 55 minutes   3 hours
Total test time (with optional essay)   3 hours 35 minutes   3 hours 50 minutes
English Section?  

Yes—Section 1

75 questions in 45 minutes

(36 seconds/question)


Yes—Section 2

44 questions in 35 minutes

(~48 seconds/question)

Math Section(s)?  

Yes—Section 2

60 questions in 60 minutes

(1 minute/question)


Yes—Sections 3 & 4

Section 3 (No Calculator) 20 questions in 25 minutes

(75 seconds/question)

Section 4 (Calculator allowed) 38 questions in 55 minutes

(~1 minute 26 seconds/question)

Reading Section?  

Yes—Section 3

40 questions in 35 minutes 

(~53 seconds/question)


Yes—Section 1

52 questions in 65 minutes 

(75 seconds/question)

Science Section?  

Yes—Section 3

40 questions in 35 minutes 

(~53 seconds/question)

  No, but tables, figures, graphs, and tables are featured in both the Reading and English sections.
 When offered?   February, April, June, September, October, and December    January, March, May, June, October, November, and December 
 Mainly tests?  

Curriculum knowledge & breadth of knowledge

  Critical Reasoning & depth of knowledge
 Website:   http://www.actstudent.org/    https://collegereadiness.collegeboard.org/ 

English Section

The English sections on both tests are relatively similar now. Regardless of what each test calls its content (usage and mechanics and rhetorical skills for the ACT and expression of ideas and standards of english convention on the SAT), the same types of skills are tested: editing and proofreading.


Math Section

Math description


Reading Section

Reading description


Science Section

Only the ACT has a science section, although the SAT does feature questions about tables, graphs, figures, and tables on the Reading and Writing sections. The science section can be a little scary at first for many students, but at the end of the day, the science section is more like the reading section than a actual science test. The same skills that are tested on reading passages—attention to detail, finding purpose quickly, supporting answers—are vital on the science section.