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What is the difference between the SAT and ACT? Your questions answered on content, scoring, timing and more!According to Peterson’s, one of the most highly respected sources for college admissions information, “With the recent trend of more colleges going test optional, you may think that test scores have become less important in college admissions, but this isn’t exactly the case. The reality is there are many schools and many categories of students for whom test scores remain very important.”

But, which test should you take? The SAT? the ACT? Both?

The real answer is… it depends. So, we’ve compiled a list of the important differences between the ACT and SAT tests, to help you determine which is best for you.


The SAT is more of a reasoning test and measures aptitude. It is ideally students with strong deductive skills.

The ACT is a comprehensive measurement of exactly what students have learned on a day-to-day basis throughout their high school careers. The ACT is the leading college admissions test in the United States, and 1.8 million students take it each year, more than any other admissions test.


The SAT is composed of three main sections: Math, Evidence-Based Reading, and Writing and Language. The 50-minute essay is optional. Total testing time with the essay is 3 hours and 50 minutes.

The ACT test includes four sections, plus an optional Writing Section. The 40-minute writing section is an essay test that measures a student’s writing skills. Although some colleges require a writing test, others do not. Students will need to decide whether to take the writing test based on the requirements of specific colleges.


The SAT’s 65-minute Evidence-Based Reading Test has 52 Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs); the 35-minute Writing and Language Test 44 MCQs. The 25 minute Math Section (on which use of calculator is not allowed) contains 15 MCQs and 5 Grid-In questions that do not have any answer options. The 55 minute Math Section (on which use of calculator is allowed) contains 30 MCQs and 8 Grid-In questions.

ACTs, in contrast, are all multiple choice questions. The test contains about 215 questions total. The 45-minute English Section is a 75-question, multiple-choice test. Six elements of effective writing are tested including punctuation, grammar and usage, sentence structure, strategy, organization, and style.

The 60-minute Mathematics Section is a 60-question, multiple-choice test. This section is designed to assess the mathematical skills most students have acquired in courses taken up to the beginning of 12th grade. While the test presents questions that require reasoning skills to solve practical problems in mathematics, no complex formulas or extensive computations are needed. A calculator is permitted, although some models are prohibited.

The 35-minute Reading Section is a 40-question, multiple-choice test. This section measures a student’s reading comprehension. Students use referring and reasoning skills to determine main ideas, locate and interpret significant details, understand sequences of events, make comparisons, comprehend cause-effect relationships, determine the meaning of context-dependent words, phrases, and statements, draw generalizations and analyze the author’s or narrator’s voice and method. Passages on topics in social studies, natural sciences, literary narrative (including prose fiction), and the humanities are included.

The Social Studies/Sciences reading skills subscore is based on the questions on the social studies and natural sciences passages, and the Arts/Literature reading skills subscore is based on the questions on the literary narrative or prose fiction passage, and the humanities passage.

The 35-minute Science Section is a 40-question, multiple-choice test that measures the interpretation, analysis, evaluation, reasoning, and problem-solving skills required in the natural sciences. Calculators are not permitted for use on this section.


Students can earn a scaled score of between 200 and 800 points on each section, for a total of 1600 possible points on the Redesigned SAT (2016). The 50th-percentile SAT composite score—the average SAT score—is 1080.

Each section of the ACT counts for 36 points and then a composite score is obtained by averaging the four sections, which also ranges between 1 and 36. The ACT score range for students admitted to different colleges varies, and the average ACT score is 20.8.

How to help a student prepare for the ACT test

The prospect of taking the ACT college-entrance exam causes anxiety for countless high school students, and their parents are often just as nervous. It is important to keep the tests in perspective. When universities consider applicants, they look at a number of factors, including grades, difficulty of high school curriculum, and extracurricular activities.

Still, there is no getting around the fact that students with higher scores on these standardized tests usually will fare better in the admissions process, particularly at more selective colleges and universities.

Rather than stressing about the test, however, students should channel their energy into becoming as well prepared as possible. At Back to Basics, we advise students to begin preparation at least several months in advance of the exam date. Upcoming dates for the ACT are:

  • June 9, 2018
  • July 14, 2018

ACT Test Prep in Delaware

To prepare, students should review material already learned, fill in gaps in knowledge, and take multiple practice exams. Students should be familiar with the test inside and out—the content, timing, and strategies for answering.

If students are motivated and disciplined enough, they can prepare for the exams on their own using a test prep book or online course. If they need a more focused approach, regularly scheduled 1-on-1 sessions, with a professional tutor may be in order.

Preparation will help students to master timing, reduce anxiety and hone test-taking strategies so that on the day of the exam they will be less anxious, more familiar with the material covered, and better able learn to pace themselves.

To learn more about 1-on-1 ACT test prep at Back to Basics Learning Dynamics in Wilmington and Newark, Delaware, please call 302-594-0754.

To register for the test, visit ACT.org.

About Back to Basics Learning Dynamics in Delaware

Back to Basics offers 1-on-1 tutoring in 60+ subjects, professional development, translating and interpreting in 21 languages, speech therapy, occupational therapy, behavior specialists, reading specialists, paras, ELL services, homebound services, RTI support, psycho-educational testing and test prep. Plus, Back to Basics Private School is Delaware’s only Department of Education approved 1-on-1 Private School for K-12. We also offer summer school and educational summer camps, original credit and credit recovery, along with unique enrichment options such as music, art and photography. Summer Planning starts NOW!  In addition to College Essay Writing, learn about more educational summer camps, summer school, original credit and enrichment options in Delaware. 

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