SAT & ACT Information

  • The SAT & The ACT
    Many students actually improve their college admissions chances by taking both the ACT and the SAT. Virtually every school that requires standardized test scores will accept either the SAT or the ACT equally. So, students should keep an open mind about which test might be best for them. At OPHS we recommend that students take both exams at least once, just to see if they do better on one vs. the other.   For some historical perspective, In September 2012 it was announced that for the first time in history more students took the ACT than the SAT (and that trend has continued. With the March 2016 test, the SAT returned to its previous 1600-point scale, with its essay portion made optional. It also dropped some of the obscure vocabulary words it had traditionally used. The math section was also narrowed in its focus. Plus, students are no longer penalized for incorrect answers and reading comprehension questions now weave in information from other subjects, such as history and science.
    So, What Is The Difference Between the ACT and SAT? 

    1. The ACT and redesigned SAT include tables, charts, and graphs.

    One of the key differences between the ACT and the redesigned SAT is that the ACT includes a Science section. On this section, you are not required to memorize specific definitions and facts from your chemistry, biology, physics, and Earth/space classes. Instead, you only need a general knowledge to answer some of the questions. Most questions will emphasize scientific reasoning skills over recall of scientific content. A major component of this section is your ability to answer questions based on information presented in tables, charts, graphs, and other visual representations.

    The redesigned SAT will also require you to use tables, charts, and graphs to answer some questions. Rather than concentrated in a specific section like on the ACT Science test, data represented in tables, charts, and graphs on the redesigned SAT will be embedded in questions across all sections of the test.

    2. The ACT and redesigned SAT Math sections test similar concepts but are formatted differently.

    While both the ACT and redesigned SAT Math sections will test your knowledge of arithmetic, algebra I and II, geometry, and trigonometry concepts, the formats of the ACT and redesigned SAT Math sections are different. On the ACT Math section, you will be given 60 minutes to answer 60 multiple-choice questions (five answer choices) with no breaks in between. This averages 60 seconds per question.

    On the contrary, the redesigned SAT is divided into two separate math sections: Math Test – Calculator and Math Test – No Calculator. On the calculator section, you will be given 55 minutes to answer 38 questions; on the no calculator section, you will be given 25 minutes to answer 20 questions. This allows more time per question as compared to the ACT, averaging 87 seconds per question for the calculator section and 75 seconds per question for the no calculator section. Also, note that the redesigned SAT includes both multiple-choice questions (four answer choices) as well as grid-in questions.

    3. The ACT Writing and redesigned SAT Essay sections are both optional but have completely different tasks.

    The ACT Writing test has always been optional to students. The redesigned SAT Essay section is also optional to students. Keep in mind that though the essay sections on both tests are optional, many colleges and universities still require this section for admission, so be sure to check the requirements for your schools of interest before opting out.

    The ACT Writing section will describe an issue and provide three different perspectives on the issue. Your task is to evaluate and analyze the perspectives, to state and develop your own perspective, and to explain the relationship between your perspective and those given.

    The SAT Essay will present a passage. Your task is to explain how the author builds an argument to persuade an audience and support your explanation with evidence from the passage. Your essay should not explain whether you agree with the claims, but rather explain how the author builds an argument to persuade the audience.

    4. The ACT and redesigned SAT scoring methods are more aligned with no penalty for guessing on either test.

    Both the ACT and redesigned SAT do not penalize for incorrect responses. You will earn points for the questions you answer correctly and will not lose points for questions you answer incorrectly. Make sure you give your best answer to every question — there’s no advantage to leaving them blank! Each of the questions on the ACT has 5 answer choices; that’s a 20% chance of guessing correctly. Each of the questions on the redesigned SAT has 4 answer choices; that a 25% chance of guessing correctly.

    The ACT composite (total) score ranges from 1-36. Each of the four sections is also scored from 1-36. The Math, Reading and English sections include subscores made up of the content covered within each section of the test which ranges from 1-18.

    The redesigned SAT composite score ranges from 400-1600. Each of the two sections, Evidence-based Reading & Writing, and Math, are scored from 200-800. In addition to the composite and section scores, you will also receive test scores, cross-test scores, and subscores. The breakdown of each type of score is outlined here and explains in detail what each score represents.

    ACT - SAT Test Comparisons at a Glance


       ACT Redesigned SAT
    (March 2016 and beyond)
    Sections Reading, English, Math, and Science Reading, Writing & Language, and Math
    Essay Optional 40-min Essay Optional 50-min Essay
    Scoring Section Scores of 1-36


    Composite Score of 1-36

    Subscores of 1-18

    Section Scores of 200-800


    Composite Score of 400-1600

    SAT Essay Score reported in 3 dimensions, each 2-8

    Test Scores of 10-40

    Cross Test Scores of 10-40

     Subscores of 1-15

    Number of Questions 154 215
    Time Allotted 3 hours or 3 hours and 40 minutes including the essay 3 hours or 3 hours and 50 minutes including the essay
    Test Length and Timing Reading Test
    35 minutes
    40 questions
    53 seconds per question


    English Test
    45 minutes
    75 questions
    36 seconds per question

    Math Test
    60 minutes
    60 questions
    60 seconds per question

    Science Test
    35 minutes
    40 questions
    53 seconds per question

    Reading Test
    65 minutes
    52 questions
    75 seconds per question


    Writing & Language Test
    35 minutes
    44 questions
    48 seconds per question

    Math Test
    80 minutes
    58 questions
    83 seconds per question

    Other Comparisons:  

    Category Current ACT Current SAT New SAT
    Test Fee $39.50
    $56.50 (with writing)
    $54.50 $43.00
    $54.50 (with essay test)
    Total Testing Time*

    *Redesigned SAT testing time subject to research
    2 hours and 55 minutes (plus 30 minutes for the Essay [optional]) 3 hours and 45 minutes 3 hours (plus 50 minutes for the Essay [optional])
    • ACT mathematics test (60 items, 60 minutes
    • ACT reading test (40 items, 35 minutes)
    • ACT science test (40 items, 35 minutes)
    • ACT English test (75 items, 45 minutes)
    • ACT writing test (optional; 1 prompt, 30 minutes)
    • Mathematics (54 items, 70 minutes
    • Critical Reading (67 items, 70 minutes)
    • SAT Writing Test
      • Essay (mandatory; 1 prompt, 25 minutes)
      • Multiple-Choice (49 Items, 60 minutes
    • Math (58 items, 80 minutes)
    • Evidence-Based Reading and Writing
      • Reading Test (52 items, 65 minutes)
      • Writing and Language Test (44 Items, 35 minutes)
    • Essay (optional; 1 prompt, 50 minutes)
    Important Features
    • Designed to measure academic achievement in English, mathematics, reading, and science.
    • Scores based on the number of correct answers. No penalty for incorrect answers.
    • Includes enhanced scoring for reliable college and career planning insights:
      • STEM Score
      • ELA Score
      • Progress Toward Career Readiness Indicator
      • Text Complexity Progress Indicator
    • Emphasis on general reasoning skills
    • Emphasis on vocabulary, often in limited contexts
    • Complex scoring (a point for a correct answer and a deduction for an incorrect answer; blank responses have no impact on scores)
    • Continued emphasis on reasoning.
    • Greater emphasis on the meaning of words in extended contexts and on how word choice shapes meaning, tone, and impact.
    • Scores based on the number of correct answers. No penalty for incorrect answers.

    Score Reporting

    *Redesigned SAT scores subject to research

    • ACT Composite Score: 1–36 (average of four test scores)
    • ACT English test: 1–36
    • ACT reading test: 1–36
    • ACT mathematics test: 1–36
    • ACT science test: 1–36
    • ACT English and writing test: 1–36
    • STEM Score: 1-36
    • ELA Score: 1-36
    • Scale ranging from 600 to 2400
    • Scale ranging from 200 to 800 for Critical Reading; 200 to 800 for Mathematics; 200 to 800 for Writing
    • Essay results scaled to multiple-choice Writing
    The CollegeBoard
    The SAT, SAT & AP tests. Through the CollegeBoard's free website you can register for tests and release scores online. It also allows you to do nationwide college searches with hotlinks to the homepages of the schools. They also offer free test prep through Khan Academy for the R-SAT. The CollegeBoard website can be accessed at:
    The ACT American College Testing Program Inc. The ACT is a major college admissions company that administers the ACT test which student may take as an alternative to the SAT. They are also available on the web. There is a wealth of information about the ACT assessment including test-taking tips, sample questions, online registration, and automated score reporting. It can be accessed at:

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Last Modified on January 20, 2021