satoractNow that the school year is in full swing, you are likely having conversations around college preparation and standardized tests. Because most colleges and universities accept both exams, one question we always get here at MathSP is whether one should take the ACT or the SAT. While we have no particular preference, it is important for you to understand both tests so that you know what you’re up against. With a comprehensive understanding of the ACT and the redesigned SAT, you may decide to take one or the other, or give both a try!


Test Comparison at a Glance

  ACT Redesigned SAT
(March 2016 and beyond)
Sections Reading, English, Math, and Science Reading, Writing & Language, and Math
Essay Optional 40-min Essay Optional 50-min Essay
Scoring Section Scores of 1-36

Composite Score of 1-36

Subscores of 1-18

Section Scores of 200-800

Composite Score of 400-1600

SAT Essay Score reported in 3 dimensions, each 2-8

Test Scores of 10-40

Cross Test Scores of 10-40

 Subscores of 1-15

Number of Questions 154 215
Time Allotted 3 hours or 3 hours and 40 minutes including the essay 3 hours or 3 hours and 50 minutes including the essay
Test Length and Timing Reading Test
35 minutes
40 questions
53 seconds per question

English Test
45 minutes
75 questions
36 seconds per question

Math Test
60 minutes
60 questions
60 seconds per question

Science Test
35 minutes
40 questions
53 seconds per question

Reading Test
65 minutes
52 questions
75 seconds per question

Writing & Language Test
35 minutes
44 questions
48 seconds per question

Math Test
80 minutes
58 questions
83 seconds per question

The redesigned SAT will be available beginning in March 2016. Here’s what’s new on the SAT:

  • An all-new essay component that is optional to students
  • No penalty for guessing answers
  • Vocabulary is tested in context and focuses on important widely used words and phrases found in texts in many different subjects. No longer are you required to memorize words from flashcards that you will never use again!

Because of these changes, the ACT and SAT exams are more aligned now than they ever were before. Let’s explore some of the similarities and differences between the ACT and the redesigned SAT in order to help you make an informed decision about which test is the better fit for you.

1. The ACT and redesigned SAT include tables, charts, and graphs.

One of the key differences between the ACT and the redesigned SAT is that the ACT includes a Science section. On this section, you are not required to memorize specific definitions and facts from your chemistry, biology, physics, and Earth/space classes. Instead, you only need a general knowledge to answer some of the questions. Most questions will emphasize scientific reasoning skills over recall of scientific content. A major component of this section is your ability to answer questions based on information presented in tables, charts, graphs, and other visual representations.

The redesigned SAT will also require you to use tables, charts, and graphs to answer some questions. Rather than concentrated in a specific section like on the ACT Science test, data represented in tables, charts, and graphs on the redesigned SAT will be embedded in questions across all sections of the test.

2. The ACT and redesigned SAT Math sections test similar concepts but are formatted differently.

While both the ACT and redesigned SAT Math sections will test your knowledge of arithmetic, algebra I and II, geometry, and trigonometry concepts, the formats of the ACT and redesigned SAT Math sections are different. On the ACT Math section, you will be given 60 minutes to answer 60 multiple-choice questions (five answer choices) with no breaks in between. This averages 60 seconds per question.

On the contrary, the redesigned SAT is divided into two separate math sections: Math Test – Calculator and Math Test – No Calculator. On the calculator section, you will be given 55 minutes to answer 38 questions; on the no calculator section, you will be given 25 minutes to answer 20 questions. This allows more time per question as compared to the ACT, averaging 87 seconds per question for the calculator section and 75 seconds per question for the no calculator section. Also note that the redesigned SAT includes both multiple-choice questions (four answer choices) as well as grid-in questions.

3. The ACT Writing and redesigned SAT Essay sections are both optional but have completely different tasks.

The ACT Writing test has always been optional to students. The redesigned SAT Essay section is also optional to students. Keep in mind that though the essay sections on both tests are optional, many colleges and universities still require this section for admission, so be sure to check the requirements for your schools of interest before opting out.

The ACT Writing section will describe an issue and provide three different perspectives on the issue. Your task is to evaluate and analyze the perspectives, to state and develop your own perspective, and to explain the relationship between your perspective and those given.

The SAT Essay will present a passage. Your task is to explain how the author builds an argument to persuade an audience and support your explanation with evidence from the passage. Your essay should not explain whether you agree with the claims, but rather explain how the author builds an argument to persuade the audience.

4. The ACT and redesigned SAT scoring methods are more aligned with no penalty for guessing on either test.

Both the ACT and redesigned SAT do not penalize for incorrect responses. You will earn points for the questions you answer correctly and will not lose points for questions you answer incorrectly. Make sure you give your best answer to every question — there’s no advantage to leaving them blank! Each of the questions on the ACT has 5 answer choices; that’s a 20% chance of guessing correctly. Each of the questions on the redesigned SAT has 4 answer choices; that a 25% chance of guessing correctly.

The ACT composite (total) score ranges from 1-36. Each of the four sections are also scored from 1-36. The Math, Reading, and English sections include subscores made up of the content covered within each section of the test which range from 1-18.

The redesigned SAT composite score ranges from 400-1600. Each of the two sections, Evidence-based Reading & Writing and Math, are scored from 200-800. In addition to the composite and section scores, you will also receive test scores, cross-test scores and subscores. The breakdown of each type of score is outlined here and explains in detail what each score represents.


MathSP’s expert Test Prep Coaches can help you to determine which test is better for you and prepare you to score higher so that you are more desirable and competitive in your college admissions applications.

Learn more about our ACT Bridge program and SAT Bridge program and how each provides effective concept-driven approaches and strategies to all sections of the the exams, providing you the tools and confidence you need to achieve your highest score.

Contact MathSP today to get started on your path to test success!