While more students in Western Pennsylvania have traditionally taken the SAT, the ACT is now accepted by all major colleges and universities. Put differently, colleges will now accept the SAT and ACT interchangeably. Both the SAT and the ACT test the same types of thinking skills. It is not true that the SAT tests how you think and that the ACT tests what you know. Both require about the same amount of background knowledge, though you do need a few more concepts for the ACT. Please see the comparison information below to learn more about the similarities and differences.

  • Both test the same types of thinking.
  • Both include a reading component, a math component and a grammar-based component. On the SAT the grammar-based component is the SAT Writing Multiple Choice sections. On the ACT the grammar component is the ACT English section.
  • Both claim to test college readiness.
  • Both seek a bell curve.

The most important difference between the SAT and the ACT is how each set of test makers achieves its bell curve. Whereas the SAT features a more pronounced order of difficulty, the ACT features a more pronounced time crunch.

Comparing the SAT and ACT
SAT ACT
Reading section features Passage-Based Reading questions only. Students have roughly 13 minutes to complete each passage. Questions vary from easy to hard. Also, two questions per passage will require students to cite evidence from the text to support their answers. Reading section features Passage-Based Reading questions only. Students have roughly 8 minutes and 45 seconds to complete each passage. Questions are mostly straightforward.
Math concepts go up to Algebra 2 with a tiny amount of trigonometry. Though the concepts are less advanced than on ACT Math, the questions or more technical and intricate.
  • On one of the two Math sections students are not allowed to use a calculator.
Math concepts go up to Trigonometry and include the unit circle, logs, probability, and matrices.
Includes four multiple choice sections - Reading, Writing, Math (no calculator), and Math (with calculator). Includes four multiple choice sections - English, Math, Reading, and Science.
Students receive two overall scores:
  • Reading and Writing Score on a scale of 200-800
  • Math Score on a scale of 200-800
Students receive four scores, one for each multiple choice section, each on a scale of 1-36.
Scores on each section are added together. Scores on each section are averaged to produce a Composite Score.
Essay section is optional. Essay section is optional.
Includes a Science section (although next to no scientific background knowledge is necessary to do well).

There is in some way no rhyme or reason as to whether a student will do better on the SAT or the ACT. Whether you are a faster test-taker or someone who prefers more elaborate problem solving may gear you toward one test or the other. In general, we recommend that you explore both options to get a feel for which might be better to try first. To discuss this further, please contact us online or at 412-874-7645.

The above findings are best solely on the experience and research of Goldstein Test Prep and are not endorsed by the ACT or the College Board.