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ACT vs. SAT: What's the Difference?

Edited by Janet White || By Harlon Moss || Updated on October 11, 2023
ACT and SAT are both standardized tests used for college admissions in the US, but have different structures and scoring systems.

Key Differences

The ACT, originally abbreviation for American College Testing, is a standardized test popularly utilized for college admissions in the United States. On the other hand, the SAT, which stands for Scholastic Assessment Test, is another pivotal standardized test wielded for college admissions in the US.
The ACT traditionally has been known for its focus on assessing what students have learned in school, while the SAT has been more aptitude-oriented, though recent changes have made it more similar to the ACT in terms of content and structure.
ACT’s content areas are English, Math, Reading, and Science, while the SAT encompasses Reading, Writing and Language, and Math. The ACT offers an optional writing test, which is an essay test, whereas the SAT provides an optional essay test as well.
Both tests have been widely recognized and accepted by universities across the United States for admission purposes.

Comparison Chart

Full Form

American College Testing
Scholastic Assessment Test

Content Areas

English, Math, Reading, and Science
Reading, Writing, Math

Essay Test


Scoring Method

Composite score of 1-36
Total score range from 400 to 1600


Widely used nationwide
Widely used nationwide

ACT and SAT Definitions


Act refers to the process of doing something.
She will act quickly to resolve the issue.


Sat is the past tense of the verb “sit,” indicating to be in a position of rest.
She sat on the bench and watched the birds.


Act also implies performing a role in a play, movie, or show.
He wants to act in a Broadway play.


Sat is used to indicate a way to settle or position oneself.
He sat himself in the most comfortable chair.


Act can also refer to a law or formal decision made by a parliament or other legislative body.
The act was passed to regulate trade.


Sat can indicate a mounting position, as in horse riding.
She sat her horse with effortless grace.


Act is utilized to describe the exact written copy of a play or other performance.
The director distributed the act to all the actors.


Sat can also be an abbreviation for the Scholastic Assessment Test.
He took the SAT in his junior year of high school.


Act might refer to one of the main divisions of a play or opera.
The second act of the play was incredibly dramatic.


Sat sometimes refers to providing a base or foundation.
The house sat on a robust concrete foundation.


The process of doing or performing something
The act of thinking.


Past tense and past participle of sit.


Something done or performed; a deed
A charitable act.


What is the maximum score for the SAT?

The highest possible score on the SAT is 1600.

What does SAT stand for?

SAT originally stood for Scholastic Aptitude Test, but now it's simply the SAT.

How is the ACT scored?

The ACT is scored on a scale of 1-36, based on the average of scores from four areas: English, Math, Reading, and Science.

Are the ACT and SAT focused on different content?

While both cover English and Math, the ACT also includes a Science section, and the SAT has a more comprehensive Math section.

Can I take the ACT or SAT more than once?

Yes, students can take the ACT or SAT multiple times and typically submit their best scores.

Can ACT or SAT scores impact scholarship opportunities?

Yes, high ACT or SAT scores can help students qualify for academic scholarships.

Can accommodations be made for students with disabilities taking the ACT or SAT?

Yes, both tests offer accommodations, but requests typically need to be made in advance.

Is there any Science section in the SAT?

No, the SAT does not have a dedicated Science section like the ACT.

What is the ACT?

The ACT is a standardized test used for college admissions in the United States.

Are all colleges accepting both the ACT and SAT for admission?

Most colleges and universities in the United States accept both the ACT and SAT for admission.

How do the lengths of the ACT and SAT compare?

The ACT is slightly shorter than the SAT, with the ACT lasting 2 hours and 55 minutes without the essay, and the SAT lasting 3 hours without the essay.

Can I send my best ACT or SAT score to colleges?

Yes, you can usually choose which ACT or SAT scores to send to colleges.

What does a good ACT or SAT score look like?

A good score depends on the college; however, above average on either test is often considered competitive.

Are the ACT and SAT only for high school students?

While primarily taken by high school students, the ACT and SAT are available to anyone.

How are the scores of ACT and SAT utilized?

Colleges use ACT and SAT scores as a part of their admissions process to assess applicants’ academic capabilities.

Is the essay section mandatory in SAT?

No, the essay section on the SAT is optional.

Is the writing test mandatory in the ACT?

No, the ACT writing test is optional.

How often are the ACT and SAT offered?

The ACT and SAT are typically offered several times a year, generally in the fall and spring.

Do colleges prefer the ACT over the SAT, or vice versa?

Generally, colleges do not have a preference between the ACT and SAT.

Where can I prepare for the ACT or SAT?

Various online platforms, books, and preparatory courses offer ACT and SAT preparation material.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

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