SAT vs ACT: Which Test is Best for You?
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SAT vs ACT: Which Test is Best for You?

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Aishwarya
Aishwarya Bhatnagar
Study Abroad Expert
Updated on Oct 11, 2023 11:19 IST
International students applying for an undergraduate program study abroad primarily in the USA have to fulfil a major admission requirement of submitting the standardized test scores of either SAT or ACT. These standardized tests are used for college admissions and getting merit-based scholarships. Check out all about SAT vs ACT in this article.
sat vs act

Students who are bound to submit these scores must identify the difference between the ACT and the SAT and also understand their liking or comfort in order to decide which test is right for them. While SAT was taken by the highest number of test-takers in the year 2022, that is around 1.7 million and ACT test-takers were just 1.35 million in the year 2022.

There is no hard and fast rule to go for one exam and not for another. The content and pattern of both tests are on similar lines, but it comes with some exceptions, that are to be highlighted in this article.

What is the SAT exam?

Scholastic Aptitude Test commonly referred to as SAT is a standardized test which tests students for their knowledge in reading, writing and maths subjects. The exam is 2 hours and 14 minutes long, consisting of two broad sections - Reading + Writing and Maths Sections. Each section is divided into two modules, where a certain number of questions are tested.

The exam has gone digital in March 2023 and is no more a paper-pencil test. To date, there is no official statement on concrete details about SAT eligibility, but high school pass-outs are recommended to appear for the SAT exam. The SAT exam is widely accepted across not just US universities, they are also accepted at UK, Canadian and Australian universities too. Since June 2021, the SAT subject tests have been discontinued, find more details here - SAT Subject Tests are no longer required at most American Colleges.

What is an ACT exam?

American College Testing or ACT exam is also a standardized exam which is taken by prospective undergraduates applying for admission to study abroad. The ACT exam is 2 hours and 55 minutes long and includes around 215 questions spread across different sections. ACT exam is divided into four sections, namely:

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  • English
  • Mathematics
  • Reading
  • Science
  • Optional Writing section

Just like the SAT exam, the ACT exam is also widely accepted across top universities abroad, in all major countries like the USA, Canada, the UK, Italy, etc.

ACT vs SAT: How are they Different?

Universities accept ACT Scores and SAT Scores for admission to different programs in the world. The colleges compare applicants before offering admission to their university using these scores. Therefore, students normally question the preferences of one test over the other and also which test is easier or will increase their admission prospects.

ACT vs SAT: Exam Format

Let’s look at the similarities and differences between the ACT exam pattern and SAT exam pattern based on the proposed guideline, elaborated below:

Areas of Difference

SAT

ACT

Sections

  • Reading + Writing
  • Mathematics
  • English
  • Reading
  • Mathematics
  • Science
  • Essay (Optional)

Test Duration

2 hrs 14 minutes

2 hrs 55 min (without essay)

3 hrs 35 min (with essay)

Score

Scored on a scale of 400-1600

Scored on a scale of 1-36

Calculator use

The calculator be used for all math questions

The calculator be used on all math questions

Mathematics Syllabus

Algebra I and II

Geometry and Trigonometry

Arithmetic/Probability/Data Analysis

Algebra I and II

Geometry and Trigonometry

Arithmetic/Probability

Reading Syllabus

5 reading Passages

4 reading passages

Science Syllabus

There is none. But tested through the reading passages. 

The Science section on ACT does not test knowledge on any particular science subject. It will test your science-based reasoning and critical thinking abilities.

English or Writing/Language Syllabus

Grammar/Punctuation

Vocabulary

Editing skills

Rhetorical skills

Grammar/Punctuation

Sentence Structure

Essays

The optional essay section of SAT stands suspended.

The optional essay section of ACT will test analytical and evaluation skills.

Frequency of Test

Held 7 times a year in the US

Held 5 times a year internationally

Held 6 times a year

Test Dates

March, May, June, October, and December

February, April, June, July, September, and October

Examination Fee

$103 is the international testing fee for the SAT

For Indian applicants, the fee is around ₹8,570 (approx) depending on the latest exchange rates.

Check SAT's official website for fee-related updates

$181.50 (without essay) is ACT international testing fee

$25 is an additional fee for those opting optional essay section   

For Indian applicants, the overall fee is around ₹15,101 - ₹17,182 depending on the current exchange rates.

Check ACT's official website for fee-related updates

This is just one area of differentiation based on the format of the two exams - SAT and ACT. Check out other areas where SAT and ACT differ from one another. 

ACT vs SAT: How to Register?

In order to register for either of the given standardized exams for undergraduate admissions, the applicants will have to take different routes for the same. Check out the details below for more details:

ACT Exam Registration Steps:

Follow the given steps to register for the ACT exam:

  • Log on to ACT's official website and sign in.
  • Fill in the required details and complete all steps.
  • Choose your ACT test centre and ACT exam date and complete the registration.
  • To complete the registration, pay the requisite fee and submit it. 

SAT Exam Registration Steps:

For SAT exam registration check out the following steps to be followed:

  • Applicants will have to log on to the College Board website and sign in.
  • Begin registering for the SAT exam and begin filling in each of the given details step by step.
  • There will be around a couple of steps till applicants reach the SAT test centre and SAT test date selection step.
  • Upon selecting the test centre and date, applicants will be prompted towards the fee payment page.
  • Once the fee is paid, the SAT registration is complete.

ACT vs SAT: Score Conversion

Since the ACT and SAT are both scored on different scales or ranges, here is the table below showing the ACT and SAT score conversions for prospective applicants:

SAT Score Range ACT Score Range (Equivalent)
610-590 9
640-620 10
680-650 11
720-690 12
770-730 13
820-780 14
870-830 15
910-880 16
950-920 17
980-960 18
1020-990 19
1050-1030 20
1090-1060 21
1120-1100 22
1150-1130 23
1190-1160 24
1220-1200 25
1250-1230 26
1290-1260 27
1320-1300 28
1350-1330 29
1380-1360 30
1410-1390 31
1440-1420 32
1480-1450 33
1520-1490 34
1560-1530 35
1600-1570 36

The above-given scores are equivalent scores or ranges of ACT and SAT exams. Applicants scoring anywhere around this range, can come and check out for the equivalent scores if at all necessary. Applicants can refer to this as ACT to SAT converter or vice versa whenever applying for admissions abroad. 

Which is the most Preferred at Foreign Universities - SAT or ACT?

As such there is no preference mentioned on foreign university websites for applicants applying for admissions abroad and where ACT or SAT exam scores are required. There may be universities which would have scrapped SAT or ACT score submissions as part of the admission requirements. There are a couple of US universities which have become test-optional or have scrapped the standardized test scores completely. Also check out: Take the SAT exam in India to study in the US and Canada. Thus, it is completely up to the applicants what exactly are they willing to submit - SAT or ACT scores. 

A lot depends on the applicant's inclination rather than the university's preferences. In case the applicant is well versed in Maths and science and has good command over the subject throughout school, then they can opt for the ACT. Those who have a slight bent towards language and literature and the basics of Maths can go for the SAT exam. Unless mentioned on the university website, applicants should submit only that exam score with which they are comfortable. Thus, there is no preference at foreign universities, rather the preference lies with the applicants. 

SAT vs ACT: Which is Easier?

There is no specific answer to the question, as to which is easier - SAT or ACT. The applicants appearing for these exams can have their own choice, but it should not be influenced by the ease of the exam but rather by what suits them the best. By this, it means that students who have a strong background in Maths and Science can think of opting for the ACT exam, while those good with Maths, Reading and English can try their hands at the SAT exam. It completely depends on the applicants as to what they find easier and more comfortable to give. Before coming to a conclusion, applicants can check out:

  • The syllabus of both the exams, that is ACT and SAT exams.
  • If they are comfortable preparing within the given time limit if at all there is a time constraint.
  • Also, the previous knowledge level of the applicant is based on both the exams and assesses if it is possible to be able to score better and on which exam.
  • Whether the applicant can appear for the SAT or ACT based on the subjects tested.

Overall, all these factors depend on the applicant they are prepared enough to appear for the SAT or ACT based on which is easier for them. The reasons are not just limited here, there can be more depending upon the applicant and situation in question. 

SAT vs ACT FAQs

Q. Is the ACT easier than the SAT?

A. Universities use ACT and SAT tests as academic measures to check the eligibility of education for admission. They are almost similar in difficulty with a comparable level of challenge. There is no consolidated answer to the question if one is easier than the other because both standardised exams test students for a common purpose which is for undergraduate admissions to foreign universities. But, students can check out about both exams and thoroughly understand the syllabus and prep tips and decide which one would be easier for them.

Q. What do SAT and ACT test applicants on?

A. The SAT tests students in the areas of English and Mathematics. There is no separate writing and science sections on the SATs. But science is tested in the reading passages of SAT rather than a separate and dedicated section. 

On the other hand, ACT tests students in the areas of English, Maths, Science and Reading. In this case, the Science section is a separate one unlike the SAT exam. The sections are four and tested on ACT with some time gaps between each section.

Q. Are ACT and SAT Math are same?

A. More or less the Math syllabus of ACT and SAT are the same but there are some topics that are tested in SAT and not on ACT and vice versa. Topics that are tested on SAT math include - Algebra, Advanced Math, Problem- Solving and Data Analysis & Geometry and Trigonometry. Whereas, ACT math syllabus includes topics on - Pre-Algebra, Elementary Algebra, Plane Geometry & Trigonometry. Thus, these are broad topics that are tested in both the exams, there may or may not be a change in the sub-topics that are tested.

Q. Is SAT reading harder than ACT?

A. The SAT Reading Test is easier in comparison with the ACT Reading Test. For both the SAT and ACT Reading Tests, strong analytical reading skills are compulsory. While the nature of the research varies in both the tests, students must be able to read deeper meaning into the content of both kinds of passages. The exam section's difficulty level also depends on student's preparation. Thus, for some it may be easy and for others it may be difficult.

Q. How many times can you take SAT?

A. There is no limit to SAT tests, students can take them as many times as they want. In a year, students can take it at least twice—in the spring of their junior year and the fall of their senior year. It is always advised that students take SAT exam one year before actually officially appearing for the exam to test one's knowledge and understanding of the subjects and exam contents. Otherwise, there is no hard and fast rule to appear for a limited number of times for the SAT exam.

Q. How do I choose between SAT or ACT?

A. The applicants must choose the standardised test for undergraduate admissions based on his or her choice. The only way to choose SAT or ACT is to first check their syllabus and exam pattern, understand which one is easier for you and then decide on one. Begin your preparation for SAT or ACT based on your research and knowledge and do attempt mocks before appearing for the main exam on the designated test date. 

Q. How to choose which is easier SAT or ACT?

A. There is only one way to check if SAT or ACT is easier by attempting one mock test on each exam. For those who have a strong point in Maths without calculators and a good hold in Science then they should go for ACT. However, those who have a good command over the English language, but not very confident on Science and are able to handle maths with calculators, can go for SAT exam. The choice ultimately relies with the applicant in question. 

Q. Is SAT easier than ACT for the reading section?

A. Yes, in case of the reading section, SAT is easier than the ACT exam. SAT exam's reading section has shorter comprehensions and the questions are also shorter in comparison to ACT. Thus, with the introduction of SAT Digital, the reading and writing section has been combined and because of a shorter duration, the questions have also become shorter. 

Q. Preparation for SAT is easier or for ACT?

A. The preparation for SAT and ACT depends on the applicants and how they plan to work on their syllabus. For those, who wish to submit either SAT or ACT scores will have to first check what suits them the best and then begin their preparations. The SAT preparation may seem easier for those who are more inclined towards reading and logical reasoning. Whereas, those who have a practical plus logical bent of mind will find ACT exam preparation easier. But again the ease of preparation completely depends on the applicant and on his/her previous knowledge. 

About the Author
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Aishwarya Bhatnagar
Study Abroad Expert

Aishwarya is a professional Writer currently working as a Study Abroad Expert in the Editorial Team at Shiksha. She has over 5 years of experience and is skilled at creating Online Content with leveraged knowledge i... Read Full Bio

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Expert in MS in USA

Goldi Mourya is armed with an MBA degree in Human Resource and is a certified ‘Green Belt’ in counselling from UCLA Extension. She has considerable experience in the field of overseas counselling. Goldi is research-... Read Full Bio

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Comments

(14)

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Sushant Mishra

3 years ago

Hello..I am deeply passionate about pursuing my mechanical engineering undergraduate course at University of Michigan...Should I give SAT subject tests or resort to APs???

Reply to Sushant Mishra

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Tuniki Sumanth

3 years ago

Hi all i did my 10+2 in 2014 and want to start my graduation in international business abroad now by 2021 . so can i apply for sat and act or else wt shd i do .

Reply to Tuniki Sumanth

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Ayush Bhardwaj

3 years ago

Hey I am Indian student and I have a doubt that can we pursue both tests act and sat pls reply asap

Reply to Ayush Bhardwaj

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Piyush Kohli

3 years ago

Dear Ayush, you can give both the SAT and ACT exams.

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Ved Pakhale

4 years ago

Hi I am a indian student studying in class 10 I want to persue my education in Georgia institute of technology for aerospace engineering what is preferred at Georgia institute of technology SAT OF ACT

Reply to Ved Pakhale

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Ved Pakhale

4 years ago

I am an India and I want to persue my education at Georgia University of technology for aerospace engineering can I know that what Should I take SAT or ACT to get into Georgia University of technology

Reply to Ved Pakhale