Choosing Between the ACT and the SAT

When it comes to high school, there are a few guaranteed hot topics every year: getting a driver’s license, whom to take to prom, plans for post-graduation, and the ACT versus the SAT.


Before it’s even time for a student to sign up for the test, they’ve heard about it in the media, in movies, from teachers, parents, siblings, friends, and more. These conflicting and often-exaggerated opinions can make it very tough for a student to choose which test is right for them. We strongly believe that choosing one test can help students focus their energy. Background knowledge about the test can help all involved parties make an informed decision—and more importantly, help a student choose the test that is their best fit

Both tests assess similar skills, but aspects of each can appeal to different students.

Allotted Time

The ACT test is a fast-paced test that rewards memorization and quick reading skills.
The SAT test provides more time but requires in-depth problem solving analysis, and comprehension.

Reading Comprehension

Both the SAT and ACT test reading comprehension. The ACT Reading section favors speed and the ability to skim and locate terms quickly.
The SAT Reading section allows for a slower reading pace, but passages involve higher-level language and arguments.


The Math section of the SAT has a portion that requires students to complete problems without a calculator. Questions tend to come from a smaller pool of concepts but work harder to trick the student and disguise their solutions behind complex equations.
The ACT Math section allows a calculator for the whole test but gets noticeably more difficult than the SAT towards the very end. In addition, a wider variety of topics appear, though the questions tend to be more straightforward.

English and Writing & Language

English and Writing & Language are comparable between the ACT and SAT with both tests asking students to correct grammar and structure within written passages. The ACT leans more toward punctuation and sentence structure, while the SAT focuses more heavily on overall passage structure and the meaning.
The ACT English section is longer than the SAT Writing & Language but provides more time.


The ACT has a dedicated data analysis section (called the Science section) that requires students to interpret information from graphs and tables. This section is fast-paced and demanding.
The SAT does not have a dedicated Science section, instead scattering graphs and charts throughout the Math and Verbal sections to test data analysis ability.

The bottom line: Because the tests are different and it’s not necessary to prepare for both, it is important to find the right fit for each individual student.

With these subtle-but-tangible differences between tests, any student who needs to decide between the tests should only choose after trying a full-length practice ACT test and practice SAT test. In order to fully prepare students for the real test experience, Private Prep offers proctored ACT and SAT practice tests in a simulated test setting. Find a location near you or contact us for more information on the ACT and SAT diagnostic review process and how we can help guide you.

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