College Life

ACT or SAT? Which is going to get my child into college?


Deciding which standardized test to take can be a difficult decision for your high school student. All U.S. colleges and universities accept both ACT and SAT scores, so it’s a matter of which test will be better for your student to take. There are a lot similarities between the two, but there are also a lot of differences. We’ve compiled a list so you can compare to see which test is right for your child. We’ve also outlined the major differences and some tips to help you and your student decide.


Sections: English, Math, Reading, Science, optional Writing

Time: 2 hours 55 minutes without writing, 3 hours 35 minutes with writing

Accepted by all colleges and universities in the U.S.

Scoring: 1-36, average of 4 sections (essay does not count toward final score)

Not penalized for incorrect answers

Cost: $46 without writing, $62.50 with writing

Offered 7 times a year: February, April, June, July, September, October, December

Registration deadline: about 5-6 weeks before

Can take 12 times

Content covered: reading, grammar and usage, math, science reasoning, writing (optional)

Math content: arithmetic, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, functions

No math formulas given


Sections: Reading, Writing/Language, Math (no calculator), Math (calculator), optional Essay

Time: 3 hours without essay, 3 hours 50 minutes with essay

Accepted by all colleges and universities in the U.S.

Scoring: 400-1600, 4 sections added up (essay does not count toward final score)

Not penalized for incorrect answers

Cost: $47.50 without essay, $64.50 with essay

Offered 7 times a year: March, May, June, August, October, November, December

Registration deadline: about 4 weeks before

Can take as many times as you want

Content covered: reading, grammar and usage, math, words in context, writing (optional)

Math content: arithmetic, algebra, geometry, pre-calculus and trigonometry, problem-solving and data analysis

Math formulas provided

Major Differences


One of the main differences between the ACT and SAT is the science portion. The SAT does not have a science section, while the ACT does. A few science questions may pop up on the SAT in the reading, writing, and math sections, but, on the ACT, the science section counts for 1/4 of the overall score. If you’ve got a child that’s good with scientific data and graphs, the ACT might be the better option.


There are many differences between the math portions of the ACT and SAT. For starters, the SAT is a lot more math-heavy with two whole sections. One of these sections is taken without a calculator, where you can use one on the entire math section of the ACT. There is also a lot more content and different types of questions when it comes to the SAT. It includes more pre-calculus, problem-solving and data analysis than the ACT. If your child is a math whiz in multiple areas, the SAT may be the right choice.

Time per Question

Another big difference between the ACT and SAT is how much time there is to answer each question. The ACT has more questions than the SAT overall, which means less time to come up with answers. Averaged out, the ACT offers 53 seconds per question in the reading portion, 36 seconds per question in English, 60 seconds per question for math, and 53 seconds per question on the science section. The SAT, on the other hand, offers approximately 75 seconds per question in reading, 48 seconds per question in writing/language, 75 seconds in math with no calculator, and 87 seconds per question in math with a calculator. This can be a major factor in how well your student will do on their test, depending on their stress level.

How to Decide

State Requirements

You should also look into your state’s requirements for testing. Some states require high schoolers to take the ACT, while others require the SAT. Many states also have students take one of the tests once during the school year at no cost to you. Of course, universities in that state usually receive more scores from whichever test those students take.

Check School Preferences Where Your Student Is Applying

One of the most important factors of this decision is the college(s) your student is looking into attending. All colleges and universities in the U.S. accept scores from both tests, but some have a preference. Make sure to ask the schools if they get more scores from the ACT or SAT, and which one they prefer. This will help get your student on the right track to being accepted.

Look at Your Child’s Strengths

When deciding which standardized test your student should take, also consider their individual strengths. If they excel in science, the ACT may be a good option, but if they have strong math skills the SAT may be the better choice. If they don’t need math formulas given to them, the ACT might be the right fit, but if they’re good at doing math without a calculator, they’ll have an advantage on the SAT. There are a lot of different factors to look at, but starting with an analysis of your child’s specific skill is a good place to start in your decision making.

Practice Tests

If you’re still struggling to decide, ask your child to take a few practice tests. This will help give you a better idea of which test is better for them, and it will help them get a feel for standardized testing beforehand. Even after you know which test your student will be taking, practice tests are never a bad idea.

Deciding which standardized test is right for your child can be difficult, but once you break it down it’s not as bad. Look at your student’s skills, have them take practice tests, and check with schools they’ll be applying to. Taking the ACT or SAT is stressful enough, help your child make the decision early on so they can spend time studying instead of worrying. |

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