sat act test exam

SAT or ACT: Which one is right for you?

V P Blog

The United States uses two different exams for undergraduate school admissions: the SAT and the ACT. Both of these tests are equally accepted and respected by US colleges. However, one of the tests may do a better job of highlighting your skills. When deciding which one to study for– and ultimately send to college admissions boards– here are a couple of things to consider:

Time Management

There is no doubt that the ACT is more time intensive than the SAT. In fact, it gives an average of 20 seconds less per question.

Seconds per Question

English/language36 seconds48 seconds
Mathematics60 seconds83 seconds
Reading52.5 seconds75 seconds
The ACT also has a shorter writing section. As of 2016, the SAT gives you 50 minutes to complete the essay compared to only 40 on the ACT.

The ACT time crunch is somewhat justified by the fact that its questions tend to be more straightforward. For example, ACT writing prompts are only a few sentences long, while the SAT requires you to read nearly two pages of text before starting your essay.

If you are comfortable sitting down and hammering out your work quickly, you might have a huge advantage on the ACT. In contrast, if you suffer from test anxiety, you might feel less rushed during the SAT.

Math Resources

The SAT provides mathematical formulas. The ACT requires you to have them memorized.

The ACT allows you to have a calculator for the entire math test, while the SAT has a no-calculator section.

Having a calculator and reference formulas might seem like a blessing. However, looking back at provided formulas and double-checking simple arithmetic can also slow you down. You need to have a good idea of how dependent you are on these resources– and whether or not access to them will ultimately be beneficial.

The Science Section

The ACT has a science section. The SAT does not.

It is important to note that this section does not test scientific knowledge like biology or chemistry. Rather, it tests your ability to understand graphs and charts, read about experiments, and compare opposing viewpoints. If you are good at this, the ACT might be the right test to help you really shine.

Your Practice Scores

Regardless of what you think are your strengths, you may be surprised to find that you perform really well with time constraints. Alternatively, you may learn that you simply cannot remember formulas under pressure.

You could spend hours trying to guess which test you will prefer, but by taking both practice exams you can compare your results with a score converter.

Although a 25 on the ACT is supposed to be equivalent to a 1250 on the SAT, you may find that your results vary slightly. For example, if you have a 25 on the ACT but a 1290 on the SAT, you’ll know that you should opt for the SAT.


Maija Wallace is a freelance writer for college admissions blogs. Her website is located at