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ACT vs. SAT- Which is Better?

Updated on 08 November, 2023

upGrad Abroad Team

upGrad Abroad Team

upGrad abroad Editorial Team

The ACT vs. SAT is a topic that has been debated for a long time. Many students often get confused as to which examination to sit for. Both ACT (American College Testing) and SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test) are acceptable across almost all colleges in the United States of America (USA). Both examinations also have sections on Writing, Reading, and Mathematics, while ACT has an optional essay. 

The similarities do not end there; be it SAT or ACT, there are no penalties for any wrong answers. So which one should it be? ACT or SAT? Here’s the lowdown.

Read More: How to Register for SAT Exam in India?

ACT vs. SAT- A Short Comparison

To understand the difference between SAT and ACT, you can take a closer look at the table given below: 

Reasons for appearing for the examination SAT scores are used by colleges for both merit-based scholarships and admissions. ACT scores are used by colleges for not only admissions but also scholarships, just like SAT. 
Structure of the Examination ReadingMathWriting & LanguageEnglishReadingMathScience ReasoningThe Essay is Optional 
Duration of Test hours in total It is 2 hours and 55 minutes without the essay and 3 hours and 40 minutes with the essay
Reading Section5 passages for reading 4 passages for reading 
Science Section No sectionsOne science section focusing mainly on critical thinking
Math Section It includes Algebra I and II, Arithmetic, Trigonometry and Data Analysis, and GeometryIt includes Algebra I and II, Geometry, Arithmetic, Probability and Statistics and Trigonometry 
Calculator PolicyYou are not allowed to use a calculator for some questions in the Mathematics section A calculator may be used for all the Mathematics questions 
EssaysNo essay is there The essay is optional for candidates
How It’s Scored400-1600 is the scale for scores 1-36 is the scale for scores 

Read More: ACT Exam: Eligibility, Important Dates & Format

SAT or ACT- Main Differences Explained 

Here are some more parameters which will help you understand the SAT and ACT difference. 


Here is a table that gives you the equivalent scores across both examinations: 

How frequently is the test held? It takes place six times every yearIt takes place seven times every year in the USA and five times each year globally
Examination CostsThe costs are $150 and $166.50 with and without the essay respectively. There is an international testing fee as well. Indian students have to pay approximately INR 11-12,000 as this charge, based on exchange rates. The costs are $101-$117 on average. The costs are roughly INR 7,400-8,700 for Indian students, depending upon exchange rates. There are international testing charges as well. 

Read More: SAT Test Centres in India – City-wise Details


ACT vs. SAT Timings

The ACT requires 2 hours and 55 minutes without the essay while it takes 3 hours and 55 minutes with the optional essay. On the other hand, SAT requires 3 hours to complete. 

The English section requires 45 minutes (75 questions in ACT) while it requires 35 minutes (44 questions) in SAT. The Math portion covers 60 questions and 60 minutes for ACT. It covers 58 questions and 80 minutes in SAT. The Reading section covers 35 minutes (40 questions) in ACT and 65 minutes (52 questions) in SAT. The Science portion covers 35 minutes (40 questions) for ACT and is not applicable for the SAT examination. The optional essay requires 40 minutes for ACT as well. 

You will have to fill out paperwork and go through instructions during your breaks along with spending a few hours at the examination centre. The time per question threshold is slightly lower for each ACT section as compared to the SAT. This is 50 and 70 seconds for the ACT and SAT, respectively. 

Read More: SAT Exam Dates & Deadlines for 2022

ACT and SAT Costs

As mentioned earlier, SAT examinations cost $101-117 along with international testing fees. It costs around INR 7,400-8,700 for Indian students. On the other hand, the ACT costs $150-166.50 which is around INR 11-12,300 for Indian students. 

SAT or ACT- Which test to take?

Is SAT exam easy? Or is ACT easier than SAT?

Here are the circumstances in which the ACT may seem to be easier: 

  • You work fast and do not run out of time while taking tests at the school level. You can also read and grasp quickly. 
  • You have a natural flair for science along with data interpretation. 
  • You can quickly decipher trends in graphs and charts. 
  • You are more dependent on the calculator for Math questions. 

Here are the circumstances in which the SAT may be easier: 

  • You are a deep reader without going too fast. 
  • You like taking your time on complex and longer passages. 
  • You can mentally calculate numbers very well without a calculator. 
  • You have a knack for reading between the lines and finding hidden tricks. 

Read More: ACT Exam Pattern


As mentioned, the differences between the SAT and ACT are already clear to you. If you are more attuned towards taking your time on complex passages and doing mental mathematics, then appear for the SAT. If you are a fast reader and learner, who is also dependent upon the calculator, go for the ACT. Take any one examination since both are universally accepted throughout the USA. 

Also Read: ACT Exam Syllabus: Pattern and tips to Prepare!

Related Reads:
SAT Results and Scores
SAT Exam Eligibility Guide
SAT Exam Syllabus
SAT Exam Pattern

Frequently Asked Questions

Is SAT Exam Easy?

The SAT examination is neither easy nor hard. Students have to solve questions without calculators and that could be a hard part. However, Indian students are used to mentally calculating numbers and may benefit from the practice. The first few problems of all SAT section are usually the easiest, with difficulty levels increasing steadily. SAT is not that difficult for those with a good grasp over basic Mathematics and English taught in school.


Is ACT Easier than SAT?

The ACT has a Science portion which is not there in SAT. This makes SAT slightly less complex. At the same time, the ACT allows you to use calculators and the SAT does not. In this regard, the ACT is easier than the SAT. The optional Essay is another addition to the ACT which is no longer present for the SAT. The SAT gives more time for each question and this makes ACT slightly harder. However, questions on the SAT usually need higher logical deductions and this makes the ACT a little easier from this perspective. The ACT has more geometry, matrices, trigonometric functions and logarithms. These are less present in SAT as per experts.We can conclude, both examinations may be easy or hard, depending upon the perspective.


Which Exam is Easier- SAT or ACT?

The ACT has its own Science Section and Optional Essay. These are absent in the SAT. The ACT gives lesser time for each question while having some additional Mathematics components as well. On the other hand, the SAT does not allow candidates to use calculators (the ACT allows them) and has more logic-oriented and complex questions in general. It does give more time for every question though. From this point of view, both examinations have their easy and tough aspects.


Is SAT or ACT More Popular?

The SAT is more popular throughout the West and East coasts while the Midwest is where the ACT reigns supreme. However, recent years have seen both examinations achieving equal levels of popularity not just in the USA but also worldwide. Regional differences in popularity, if existent, are few and far in between. Both examinations are readily accepted throughout the colleges in the USA.


Is SAT or ACT Math Easier?

ACT Math is easier than SAT Math if you consider the additional mathematical functions and components included in it. However, it is easier if you consider the fact that students can use calculators. SAT Math does not have many components but questions may be tougher and logic-based, while calculators are not allowed for students. It is thus a subjective affair.


Is it better to Submit ACT or SAT?

If you have given both the SAT and ACT examinations, you should go by a simple principle. This is to submit the test where you have scored higher. It is a myth that colleges mostly prefer SAT scores than ACT results. The real picture is that all institutions require scores in any of these two examinations.


upGrad Abroad Team

upGrad abroad Editorial Team

We are a dedicated team of study-abroad experts, ensuring intensive research and comprehensive information in each of our blogs. With every piece written, we aim at simplifying the overseas education process for all. Our diverse experience as journalists, content writers, editors, content strategists, and marketers helps create the most relevant and authentic blogs for our readers.

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