SAT vs ACT

All colleges in the US accept either the ACT or the SAT scores and do not give a preference to either test. Standardised test scores are particularly important for international students as most apply from school systems with different grading criteria. Median and/or mean SAT/ACT scores of students who get accepted at top-ranked and selective colleges are in the highest percentiles.

The common question then, which frequently arises, is which test to take?

SAT ACT
Total score ranges from 400-1600 Total score ranges from 1-36
Sections on test appear in this order Sections on test appear in this order
1.Reading  1.English
2.Writing 2.Reading
3.Math 3.Math
4.Essay 4.Science
5.Writing (Essay)
Writing & reading sections will count to the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score out of 800, which will be combined with the Math score out of 800 to create a final score between 400-1600 4 section scores from English, Math, Reading, and Science are scored on a scale of 1-36, these 4 scores are averaged to create a composite, also between 1 and 36
The essay section is optional with three scores. One score each for reading, analysis, and writing, between 2 and 8 The essay is optional on a scale of 1-36. It will be scored across multiple domains: Ideas and Analysis, Development and Support, Organization, and Language Use and Conventions. Each of the sub scores will be between 2 and 12.
SAT Reading ACT Reading
Passage types and order: Passage types and order:
1 U.S. or World Literature 1 Prose Fiction or Literary Narrative
2 History or Social Studies 1 Social Sciences
2 Science  1 Humanities
Total 5 passages with 52 questions 1 Natural Sciences
Time for section - 65 minutes Total  4 passages with 40 questions
Question types: Time for section - 35 minutes
Main Idea, Vocab-in-Context, Inference, Evidence Support, Data Reasoning, Technique, Detail-Oriented Question types
Main Idea, Vocab-in-Context, Inference, Detail-Oriented
Inclusion of classic texts in reading (US Founding Documents, Great Global Conversation, etc.); the language is challenging in these passages No such passages in the ACT
Questions in chronological order; new question type of evidence based questions Questions are randomly ordered
Charts and figures in science passages; two of the five passages on the new SAT will cover scientific topics, and these will include charts and figures Passages in the science section are more about reading and answering questions rather than knowing science. Charts and graphs included.
However the “Science section” is actually a reading section based on science passages. Section details:
40 questions
35 minutes
SAT Math ACT Math
2 sections 1 section
With calculator: 55 min; 38 questions 60 minutes; 60 questions
No calculator: 25 min; 20 questions Calculator allowed in the entire section
Total time for section 80 minutes Total time for section 60 minutes
4 answer choices per question 5 answer choices per question 
Questions heavily focussed on algebra, Far more geometry and trigonometry. If you like geometry, the ACT will be the test for you
61% of the questions deal with algebra topics, including manipulating equations and expressions, writing equations to solve word problems, solving quadratics, and working with formulas A quarter to a third of the questions on the math section deal with geometry or trigonometry.
Only 6 questions on geometry and trigonometry
SAT W&L ACT English
4 passages, 44 questions 5 passages; 75 questions
Time for section 44 minutes Time for section 45 minutes 
Grammar, punctuation and writing style tested Grammar, punctuation and writing style tested
Can see charts and graphs in this section as well
SO WHICH TEST TO TAKE?
  1. Take the test on which you can score higher
  2. Each test has pros and cons
    • Good at reading, but a science-phobe? Think of the SAT
    • Math – is algebra a challenge? Think of the ACT
  3. Overall ACT has more time pressure but the questions tend to be more straightforward
  4. Reading passages on the SAT are more dense, and harder questions tend to be more tricky
  5. Take a full-length ACT and SAT to really determine which test works for you
  6. Its not a question of which test is easier, its a question of which test you can score higher on
  7. Getting a 90+ percentile score on either test requires focused practice, time, and in-depth test analysis