Which Test Should I Take: SAT? or ACT?

Confused about whether to take the SAT or ACT? Understand the differences between the two tests, and choose the right one for you.

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With two options, SAT and ACT, this question is on the mind of many students. Do not feel alone in this! It can be very intimidating, especially if you look on the test websites where they speak in lingo. There are important things to take into consideration when deciding if you should take the ACT or the SAT.

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Time and Number of Questions

The SAT is slightly longer, clocking in at 3 hours. The ACT is 2 hours and 55 minutes without the optional essay section(the ACT Plus Writing) and 3 hours and 35 minutes with it or just over 4 hours with breaks.

The pace and time allotted for each section still differ between the ACT and the SAT. The ACT remains a faster-paced test, with shorter sections and less time per question, while the SAT allows for a slightly slower pace with longer sections and more time per question.


Sections Time Allotted (minutes) Number of Questions
Reading 65 52
Writing and Language 35 44
Math 80 58
Total 180 154


Sections Time Allotted (minutes) Number of Questions
English 45 75
Reading 35 40
Math 60 60
Science 35 40
Total 175 215

The SAT features a total of 154 multiple-choice questions, which are divided into three main sections: Reading, Writing and Language, and Math. The Reading section is composed of 52 multiple-choice questions and the Writing and Language section is composed of 44 questions. The Math section has 58 questions in total, with 38 questions that allow calculators and 20 questions that do not allow calculators.

On the other hand, the ACT has a total of 215 questions. The English section has 75 questions, the Math section has 60 questions, the Reading section has 40 questions, and the Science section has 40 questions. The optional writing section requires students to write an essay based on a prompt, but does not include multiple-choice questions.

To sum up, the SAT and ACT both have multiple-choice sections, but the SAT has fewer questions with a total of 154 compared to the ACT's 215 questions. Also the SAT's math section includes questions that do not allow calculators while the ACT's math section allows the use of calculators.

Science Section

The SAT is divided into three sections: Reading, Writing, and Math, while the ACT is divided into four sections: English, Math, Reading, and Science. The ACT has a science section which the SAT does not offer, so depending on if science is a strength of yours, you may want to consider taking the ACT.

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Both the SAT and ACT Math sections allow the use of scientific and graphing calculators, and the allowed functions on both exams include basic arithmetic operations, trigonometric functions, logarithms, and exponents. The use of calculators in the SAT and ACT exams differs in terms of the sections of the test in which calculators are permitted.

The SAT Math section has one 25-minute section that does not allow the use of calculators, while the other 55-minute Math section allows the use of calculators. In contrast, the ACT Math section allows calculators on all questions.


If you are unsure which test to take, there is still the option to simply take both! Many students choose to do this to increase their odds of getting a higher test score or to simply increase their options of test scores to report. Whichever exam you choose to take, it really comes down to preparing for it, so make sure to study up on the exam you register for. Check out test prep materials that are test specific, and if you can, take a practice exam. This will help you to do well on the exam and get into the schools you want to.

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