In the college prep world, the ACT vs. SAT have been pitted against each other like serious college football rivals. You may have heard others sing praises about one test versus another and why one is far superior. But, if you want the honest truth, both the ACT and SAT are great tests. There is no “best test” – just the right test for each individual student.

How can you go about deciding which test is best for you? That’s what we’re breaking down today!


At first glance the ACT and SAT are quite similar. They both include 4 different sections and colleges don’t really have a preference in which one you take. Meaning, there’s no right or wrong here. Simply find the best test for YOU! As we explore differences though, it’s worth noting what sections each test has.

Content Differences

While both tests have 4 sections, there is a difference in the type of content that is covered in each one.

ACT includes: Reading, English, Math, and Science

SAT includes: Reading, Writing, Math w/ a calculator, and Math w/o a calculator

It’s also worth noting some of the types of content and questions that differ. For instance, you will see far more geometry questions on the ACT than SAT. Of the math questions on the ACT, 23% are geometry, while only 6% will be found on the SAT. Another difference is in vocabulary questions. You’ll find significantly more on the SAT than the ACT.


While the timing is also similar, there are some differences in the overall time allowed as well as a per question breakdown.

ACT: 2 hours and 55 minutes total

SAT: 3 hours total

With the SAT you get 5 more minutes, as well as more time per section / question. Let’s look at the essay section. On the ACT you are only allowed 40 minutes while on the SAT you will be allotted 50 minutes for this section. There is also more time available per question on the SAT. In the reading section, you’ll be allowed 75 seconds per question (if you were to break it down and use the same timing on each question), and on the ACT you would only have about 53 seconds per question.

The Best Test for You

So, with that in mind, how should you make this decision…? First of all, the above information should just give you a broad overview of the test themselves and the differences between the ACT vs. SAT. That information alone should inform your decision, but not make it completely.

We HIGHLY recommend taking standardized, mock tests, preferably with a proctor to give you the most accurate assessment of not only what it’s like to take these types of tests, but also which one you’re best suited for. Steer away from “hybrid” tests or shortened versions. These cannot be trusted as your baseline to work from because they are not nearly as accurate as using a full length test.

Another note on the SAT specifically: If you’ve already decided on the SAT, based on your PSAT score, we strongly advise you to still complete a full length test. Because of the recent inconsistencies in the scoring of the SAT, the PSAT is not a good measure of a students potential on the actual test. The world of test and college prep is always evolving and changing and something that was true yesterday, may not be true today. This is just another reason to make sure you complete a full length test for accuracy.

Once you’ve completed a test run of each, you can compare scores and decide which test is the best route for you. When we’re asked if you should do this multiple times on both tests, our answer is no. This is overkill and can sometimes only increase the test stress and anxiety of a student.

So, what if you do well on both? Our recommendation would be the ACT at that point. Here’s why: Again, because of scoring inconsistencies and the volatile nature of scoring, the ACT is a far more consistent and reliable test. In our experience, it’s also much easier to increase an ACT score over a few tries, since it is a more consistent test. The only exception to this, is if a student scores better than 2 standard deviations higher on the SAT than on the ACT.

When Should You Decide Which Test to Take?

Getting ahead and deciding on the best test for you is important. We recommend starting to take the mock test after the fall of a student’s sophomore year as a test run (assuming they’ve had pre-calc already). A student should be able to then choose which test they will go with by the end of the fall semester of their junior year.

That was a lot of information and we know a lot of you may be visual learners, so we’ve created a free infographic breaking down the differences of the ACT vs. SAT. You can download it here.

As always, if you have any questions or need any additional help deciding what test is best for you – just shoot us a message!