ACT vs SAT College Test Information


Every year, high school Juniors and Seniors face the ACT vs SAT dilemma. They ask themselves which test they should take.  With several recent changes made to both the ACT and SAT, that decision might be slightly harder to make.  To help you make an informed decision for your student, Eureka Tutoring has created a list below that compares the new 2016-2017 ACT to the new 2016-2017 SAT.

ACT Information

  1. 215 total questions broken up into:
    • 75 English questions
    • 60 Math questions
    • 40 Reading questions
    • 40 Science questions
    • One optional essay.
  2. A total of 2 hours and 55 minutes broken up into:
    • a 45 minute English section
    • a 60 minute Math section
    • a 35 minute Reading section
    • a 35 minute Science section.
  3. With the 40 minute optional essay, the ACT comes to a total of 3 hours and 35 minutes (not including the short break in-between the Math and Reading sections).
  4. The ACT scores students’ results by using a 1-36 scale that tries to take into account the variation in difficulty of each test.
  5. There is no penalty for selecting an incorrect answer.

The ACT essay is a typical persuasive essay that asks students to take a stance on a given topic.  After taking a stance, they must successfully support and defend their argument to get a high score. See the scoring rubric here.

The ACT is a fast paced test.  Students can easily get stuck on a couple difficult problems, which forces them to guess on many problems at the end.  Time management is extremely important on this test.

SAT Information

  1. 154 total questions broken up into:
    • 52 Reading questions
    • 44 Writing and Language questions
    • 58 Math questions
  2. A total of 3 hours exactly broken up into:
    • a 65 minute Reading section
    • a 35 minute Writing and Language section
    • an 80 minute Math section.
  3. With the 50 minute optional essay, the SAT comes to a total of 3 hours and 50 minutes.
  4. There is now NO PENALTY for selecting an incorrect answer on the SAT.
  5. The Math section is broken up into a 20 question no-calculator section and a 38 question calculator allowed section.  Each of these sections has open answer questions where the student must come up with the answer on their own, rather than selecting from multiple options.
  6. The SAT scores students’ results by using a range from 400 to 1600.

The SAT essay is distinct from what most high school students normally write.  It is an argumentative essay, but with a twist.  During the test, students will read a persuasive essay written by a historical figure like Martin Luther King Jr., or Jimmy Carter.  After reading, they have to decide how well the writer has persuaded their audience, and then analyze–NOT JUST SUMMARIZE–how they put their argument together.  This requires a good understanding of how arguments are formed as well as what effect they might have on an audience.  The student’s essay should be an argument about the argument, not an argument about the topic. See the SAT Scoring Rubric here.

The SAT gives more time for students to complete a smaller number of questions, but those questions, especially the grid-in questions, can take longer.

More Information and Helpful Links

I hope this helps you to make a more informed decision about which test to take!  If you still have any unanswered questions about the ACT or SAT feel free to ask me anything about the tests.

Check out the programs that Eureka Tutoring offers for the ACT and SAT at the session selection page.

If you would like more to read about the ACT and SAT please follow these links:

Interested in scheduling an ACT or SAT test for your student?  Click the links below to determine the date that works best for you.



Expecting Results?

The ACT releases the main multiple-choice results two weeks after the test date.  The Writing section score is generally released two weeks after that.

The SAT generally releases all the results at once, three to four weeks from the date of the test.

How do the ACT and SAT tests score students’ results?

For the ACT, each section raw score converts into a section scaled score.  Then, the four scaled section scores are averaged together.  This average is rounded up to create a combined scaled score from 1-36, which we are all familiar with.  For the optional essay, two readers score the essay from 1-6 in four different categories.  This gives a total of 48 possible raw points.  The raw score converts to a scaled score from 1-36 based on a chart.  The four categories previously mentioned are Ideas and Analysis, Development and Support, Organization, and Language Use.

For the SAT, the raw scores are grouped into a combined Math section and an “Evidence-Based Reading and Writing” section, which combines the Reading and Writing and Language sections.  Both combined sections have raw scores that convert to a 200-800 scaled score.  These scores add together to come up with a final score.  Two readers score the essay from 1-4 in three categories.  The three categories are Reading, Analysis, and Writing.  These scores add together to yield a combined essay score from 2-8.  This score will not impact the classic 400-1600 score, but it will impact other scores that the SAT produces.

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