If you’re a high school student planning on going to college after graduation, then you’ve probably heard about the ACT and SAT exams. Both exams are used as entrance exams into most colleges around the country and both exams are pretty popular. The class of 2018 reported 2.1 million test-takers for the SAT and 1.9 for the ACT. However, it’s not uncommon for a student to take both tests.

Both the ACT and SAT are exams that are used to demonstrate a student’s college readiness and the exams give admissions an idea as to where the student will succeed and where they may need help.

All US colleges and universities accept scores from both the ACT and SAT, so there is really no advantage to taking both exams. You’re able to apply to the same schools regardless of which exam you take.

Even though both exams focus on the same thing, there are plenty of differences between the two.

Key Differences


  • The ACT focuses on advanced math and science. The science section of the exam is designed to test reading and reasoning skills and tests higher-level math than the SAT.
  • Contains lots of geometry questions.
  • You’ll have less time that can be spent on each question. You’ll have 49 seconds per question.


  • The SAT’s vocabulary section is weighted much more strongly than it is on the ACT. The vocabulary questions are designed to be read several times to be understood.
  • More time can be spent on each question. You’ll have 1 minute, 10 seconds per question.


ACT: Without Writing: $50.50 – With Writing: $67.00

SAT: Without Writing: $46.00 – With Writing: $60.00

Exam Times

ACT: 2 hours, 55 minutes (plus 40 minutes if you’re taking the ACT with writing)

SAT: 3 hours (plus 50 minutes if you’re taking the optional Essay)

Test Structure


  • English: 75 multiple-choice questions – 45 minutes
  • Math: 60 multiple-choice questions – 60 minutes
  • Reading: 40 multiple-choice questions – 35 minutes
  • Science: 40 multiple-choice questions – 35 minutes
  • Writing: 1 essay – 40 minutes (optional)


  • Writing and Language: 44 multiple-choice questions – 35 minutes
  • Reading: 52-multiple-choice questions – 65 minutes
  • Math: 58 multiple-choice questions – 80 minutes
  • Essay: 1 essay – 50 minutes (optional)


Test Sections

ACT English

The ACT English section tests your editing skills and how well you are able to find and fix errors in grammar and punctuation as well as how well you are able to improve the organization and style of different passages.

You’ll be given five passages on different topics ranging from historical essays to personal narratives. There will be a portion of the passage underlined which will require you to decide if these underline portions are correct as written or if another answer would improve or fix the selection. You will also be given questions that will ask you to add, cut, or reorder text as well as evaluate the passage as a whole.

  • Number of Questions: 75 multiple-choice questions
  • Time Limit: 45 minutes
  • Test Question Types:


Total of 40 questions

Skills/Content Tested:

Punctuation: 7-11 questions

Commas, apostrophes, colons, semicolons, dashes, periods, question marks, and exclamation points

Grammar & Usage: 11-15 questions

Subject-verb agreement, pronoun agreement, pronoun forms and cases, adjectives, adverbs, verb forms, comparative and superlative modifiers, and idioms

Sentence Structure: 15-19 questions

Subordinate or dependent clauses, run-on or fused sentences, comma splices, sentence fragments, misplaced modifiers, shifts in verb tense or voice, and shifts in pronoun person or number

Rhetorical Skills Questions: Total of 35 Questions

Skills/Content Tested:

Strategy: 11-15 questions

Adding, revising, or deleting sentences; how a sentence fits with purpose, audience, and focus of a paragraph or the essay as a whole

Organization: 7-11 questions

Opening, transitional, and closing phrases or statements; order and focus of sentences or paragraphs

Style: 11-15 questions

Writing style, tone, clarity, and effectiveness, eliminating ambiguity, wordiness, and redundant material; clarifying vague or awkward material

SAT Writing & Language

The SAT Writing and Language section requires you to read passages and then find mistakes or weaknesses within those passages and fix them. You’ll be given four or five passages, each with 11 questions to answer.

  • Number of Questions: 44 multiple-choice questions
  • Time Limit: 35 minutes
  • Test Question Types:

Command of Evidence: You will be asked to improve the way passages develop information and ideas as well as choosing an answer that sharpens an argument’s claim or adds relevant supporting details.

Words in Context: You’ll be required to make a passage more concise or precise, improve syntax, style or tone by choosing the best words to use in a sentence or paragraph.

Specific Subject Area Analysis: You’ll be given passages to read about topics in history, social studies, and science. Then you’ll be required to make editorial decisions on how to improve them.

Expression of Ideas: You’ll be asked to assess a passage’s organization and impact by choosing which words or structural changes improve how the paragraph makes its point.

Standard English Conventions: This area is tested on the building blocks of writing which include sentence structure, usage, and punctuation. Topics include verb tense, parallel construction, subject-verb agreement, and comma use.

ACT Reading

The ACT Reading section measures your reading comprehension skills. It contains four different types of passages to be read, each with 10 questions. There are three single passages and one set of paired passages. The paired passage is divided into three groups. The passages will have line numbers every five lines with questions referencing these line numbers.

  • Number of Questions: 40 multiple-choice questions
  • Time Limit: 35 minutes
  • Test Question Types:

Detail Questions: Find and interpret details

Main Idea Questions: Identify the main idea of a passage, paragraph, or paragraphs

Comparative Relationships Questions: Interpret comparative relationships (similarities and differences)

Cause-Effect Relationships Questions: Interpret cause and effect relationships

Generalizations Questions: Draw generalizations

Vocabulary-in-Context Questions: Identify the meaning of words in context

Sequence of Events Questions: Determine when events happened and/or the order of events

Author’s Voice and Method Questions: Identify the author’s style, attitude, and point of view; the main purpose of a sentence, a paragraph, or the passage as a whole

SAT Reading

The SAT Reading section contains four passages and one set of paired passages that contain between 500 to 70 words each. You’ll be given 10 to 12 questions after each passage and one or more of those passages may contain a graphic such as a chart, bar graph or scatter plot. Each passage will require you to answer questions that relate to that graphic.

You’ll also be given questions asking you to compare or contrast, or to consider what one author would think about the other author’s point of view.

  • Number of Questions: 52 multiple-choice questions
  • Time Limit: 65 minutes
  • Test Question Types:

US & World Literature: 1 passage – Focuses on contemporary work of US or World Literature

History/Social Studies: 2 passages, or 1 passage and 1 pair; Focuses on a U.S. Founding document or work inspired by those documents

Social Science: 1 selection; focuses on economics, psychology, sociology or another social science

Science: 2 passages, or 1 passage and 1 pair; focuses on concepts in Earth Science, biology, chemistry, or physics

The SAT Reading section measures:

Command of Evidence

Words in Context

Analysis in History/Social Studies and in Science

ACT Math

The ACT Math section covers mathematical topics that you have learned in high school such as pre-algebra and algebra.

  • Number of Questions: 60 multiple-choice questions
  • Time Limit: 60 minutes
  • Math Area:

Pre-Algebra:14 questions

Whole numbers, fractions, decimals, and integers; positive integer powers and square roots; ratio, proportion, and percent; multiples and factors; absolute value; one variable, linear equations; probability and counting problems; data interpretation; and mean, median, and mode

Elementary Algebra: 10 questions

Variables, polynomials, factoring, quadratic equations, linear inequalities, integer exponents, and square roots

Intermediate Algebra: 9 questions

Quadratic formula, radical and rational expressions, inequalities, absolute value, sequences, systems of equations, quadratic inequalities, matrices, polynomial roots, and complex numbers

Coordinate Geometry: 9 questions

Number line graphs; graphs of points, lines, polynomials, circles, and other curves; relationships between equations and graphs; slope; properties of parallel and perpendicular lines; distance formula; midpoint formula; transformations; and conics

Plane Geometry: 14 questions

Plane figures; angles; parallel lines; perpendicular lines; translations, reflections, and rotations; 3-D geometry; perimeter, area, and volume; and logical reasoning and proofs

Trigonometry: 4 questions

Right triangle trigonometric ratios; trigonometric functions, identities, and equations; and trigonometric functions modeling

SAT Math

The SAT Math section is divided into two parts; one where you can use a calculator and the other without a calculator. You’ll be given some questions that have multiple-choice answers and you’ll be given others that are grid-ins.

  • Number of Questions: 58 multiple-choice questions (20 questions in the no-calculator section and 38 questions in the calculator-allowed section)
  • Time Limit: 80 minutes (25 minutes for the no-calculator section, 55 minutes for the calculator-allowed section)
  • Math Area:

Heart of Algebra: 19 questions

Analyze and solve equations and systems of equations; create expressions, equations; create expressions, equations, and inequalities to represent relationships between quantities and to solve problems; rearranging and interpreting formulas.

Problem Solving: 17 questions

Creating and analyzing relationships using ratios, proportions, percentages, and units; describing relationships shown graphically; summarizing qualitative and quantitative data

Passport to Advanced Math: 16 questions

Rewriting expressions using their structure; creating, analyzing, and solving quadratic and higher-order equations; purposefully manipulating polynomials to solve problems

Additional Topics in Math: 6 questions

Making area and volume calculations in context; investigating lines, angles, triangles, and circles using theorems; and working with trigonometric functions

ACT Science

The ACT Science section consists of several science passages that focus on biology, chemistry, earth/space science, and physics. Each passage will be represented as one of three formats such as Data Representation, Research Summaries, and Conflicting Viewpoints.

You will be given questions that will ask you to understand, analyze, and evaluate information using paragraphs, graphs, tables, charts, and diagrams with each passage.

  • Number of Questions: 40 multiple-choice questions
  • Time Limit: 35 minutes
  • Types of Passages:

Data Representation: 15 questions

Understand, evaluate and interpret information presented in graphs, tables, or chars

Research Summaries: 18 questions

Understand, evaluate, and analyze one or more experiments

Conflicting Viewpoints: 7 questions

Understand and evaluate conflicting viewpoints, theories, or hypotheses on a specific topic

ACT Practice Test / SAT Practice Test

ACT Essay

The ACT Essay is an optional section. The essay section measures your writing skills as well as reading and pre-writing skills. You’ll be given the task of evaluating and analyzing the three given perspectives, to evaluate and analyze the three given perspectives and to state your perspective and to explain the relationship between their perspectives and those given.

  • Number of Essays: 1 essay (optional)
  • Time Limit: 40 minutes

SAT Essay

The SAT Essay is also an optional section. The essay will require you to analyze how an argument works. It assesses your ability to analyze an author’s argument and how well you focus on using the author’s evidence, reasoning, and other rhetorical techniques.

  • Number of Essays: 1 essay (optional)
  • Time Limit: 50 minutes


ACT Scores

The ACT exam is scored using a composite score which is your overall score for the ACT. The overall score ranges from 1 to 36 and is an average of the scores that you received in each section.

SAT Scores

The SAT is scored on a range between 400 and 1600. The Reading and Writing sections will have a combined score ranging between 200 to 800. You will also receive a score ranging between 200 to 800 from the Math.

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Jay Willis

Jay Willis joined Mometrix as Vice President of Sales in 2009, and has developed several key strategic relationships that have enhanced the distribution of Mometrix products. With nearly 20 years of sales experience in the publishing industry, his dedication to providing the highest quality experience for customers, coupled with his sales and marketing expertise, has resulted in significant growth of the Institutional Sales division. Learn more