Admissions Tests: SAT & ACT

Many American colleges and universities use the SAT Reasoning and/or ACT test as a key part of their entrance criteria.  Each exam is 4 hours with several sections of multiple choice questions and one essay (optional in the ACT).  All universities accept either exam; students, who have sufficient time to prepare properly, can take both exams and submit the one on which they perform better.


SAT – 10 Short Sections


ACT – 5 Long Sections

3 Reading Comprehension (200 – 800 points)

Grammar (0-36 points)

3 Math (200 – 800 points)

Math (0–36 points)

3 Writing: 2 grammar, 1 essay (200 – 800 points)

Reading (0–36 points)

1 Experimental (not scored)

Science (0-36 points)


Essay available on some test dates



Competitive universities want 700+ points per section

Competitive universities want 32+ points per section

The substance of what is tested is essentially the same on both exams.  The differences come with the style of question, scoring and format of the sections. For example, in reading, the ACT has only text-based questions whereas the SAT combines both sentence completions (a test of vocabulary) and text-based questions. The SAT questions tend to follow the order of the passage and often include line references, making it easy to find the answer within the passage quickly. In the ACT, the questions do not follow any pattern, requiring students to locate the details within the passage themselves.

In grammar, the ACT questions are presented within a continuing story so that the student must follow the logic of the text as well as correct the grammar. Most of the SAT grammar questions are discrete so do not need the same level of concentration through many lines of text.  In both cases, students need to know (or learn) the rules of grammar to do well. The math in the ACT covers a greater range of topics than are covered in the SAT. ACT questions are presented randomly; whereas in the SAT the questions in each math section are presented in order of difficulty so it is easy to determine which questions are the most challenging.  Unlike the ACT, the SAT has no science.  Many students find they can complete the individual sections of the SAT within the time allotted; whereas in the ACT they often must guess a number of questions because they cannot finish in the available time.

As with all exams, preparation is crucial.  Some students choose to prepare themselves through self-study together with the official preparation books. However, some find that a course specifically tailored to these tests saves them time and effort by reviewing the substance for them and directing their studies appropriately. Whichever exam and whichever method you choose, make sure you know everything you can before you take it.