Q: What are the differences between the ACT and SAT?

Scoring Score is out of 1600
-800 for Math
-800 for Evidence-Based Reading and Writing
Score is out of 36
-Overall composite score out of 36 (average of 4 section scores)
-Score out of 36 for each section (English, Math, Reading, Science)
Sections -Reading (65 minutes)
-Writing and Language (35 minutes)
-Math without calculator (25 minutes)
-Math with calculator (55 minutes)
-Essay test (optional) (50 minutes)

Total Time: 3 hours plus 50-minute optional essay
-Total # of questions: 154
-Time per question: 70 seconds

-English (45 minutes)
-Math (60 minutes)
-Reading (35 minutes)
-Science (35 minutes)
-Essay test (optional) (40 minutes)

Total Time: 2 hours 55 minutes plus 40-minute optional essay
-Total # of questions: 215
-Time per question: 49 seconds

Q: Should I take the SAT or ACT?
A: There are two primary factors to consider when determining which test to take:

  1. What tests are required for the schools I will apply to in the fall?
  2. If my schools will take either the SAT or ACT, which test will I score higher on?

Tip: Take practice tests and see how you perform!

  • Students applying to schools that will accept either the SAT or ACT should take a practice test for each and compare their practice SAT and ACT scores. Most schools will accept either test.
  • An official practice test is available on both the SAT and ACT sites.
  • Students should take practice tests using official time limits to get a sense for any pacing issues.
  • Practice tests should be taken with any special accommodations that the student expects to qualify for on the official test. Learn about SAT accommodations and ACT accommodations.
  • Use the practice test scores to help you determine which test to prep for, and focus your energy on that test.

Q: Should I take the optional SAT or ACT essay?
A: Students need to decide in advance if they would like to take the SAT or ACT with the optional essay. This option needs to be selected when registering for the test on the ACT or SAT website.

Students should check the admissions pages for the schools they are interested in to determine if they need to complete the essay. If your school list is uncertain, it is much safer to take the version that includes the essay.

  • All schools will accept the version that includes the essay, while some schools will not accept the version without it.
  • If you live in Colorado or another state with state-wide testing, double check with your school to see if they will offer the version that includes writing on the state-wide test date.

Q: When should I take my tests?
A: Most students should aim to take their preferred test twice in the spring of their junior year, as well as the summer before senior year.

There are two primary factors to consider:

  1. When will I have time to prepare for the exams? Consider extracurricular commitments, AP exams, etc.
  2. What math class am I currently taking?
  • Students currently in Algebra II may benefit from taking the ACT and the SAT later in the year due to Algebra II concepts covered on the test.

Special circumstances:
Athletes may need to take tests during the first semester of their junior year if they are being recruited for sports. Students without the necessary time to effectively study during their junior year may elect to study over the summer and take the test twice in the beginning of their senior year.

Q: Why should I take my preferred test twice?
A: Most schools will have one of the following policies for standardized tests:
Highest score on a single test date

  • The school will look at the best composite score achieved and will focus on only that score


  • The school will take the highest section scores across multiple test dates and repackage those into a higher overall score

Example ACT Superscore

  • April Test: English 30, Math 30, Reading 20, Science 20, Composite=25
  • June Test: English 20, Math 20, Reading 30, Science 30, Composite=25
  • Superscore: English 30, Math 30, Reading 30, Science 30, Composite=30

Q: Why is the ACT generally better than the SAT for students that qualify for accommodations?
A: Pacing is a greater challenge on the ACT and has a bigger impact on scores.

  • Standard time students have less time per question on the ACT vs. SAT and often report feeling rushed.
  • Students who no longer have to worry much about time will perform better relative to peers with time issues.

SAT typically provides extended time for each section, and students must use all of the time on that section.

  • Results in students sitting and waiting for some sections, while still running out of time on others.

ACT gives the student extended time for the total time on the test. Students choose when to move on from a section and can use their extra time as they see fit for sections where they need it.

A student who qualifies for 50% extra time could do the following:

  • Complete the math section in 75 minutes (only 25% extra time).
  • Use the “leftover” minutes to complete the reading section in 70 minutes (double time).

Q: What are SAT Subject Tests?

  • SAT Subject Tests are offered on national SAT test dates. Some subjects are not offered on all dates.
  • A limited number of universities require or encourage students to take SAT Subject Tests.
  • Tests are 60 minutes long, and students can take 1-3 tests on a single test date. Note: Students can’t take the SAT and SAT Subject Tests on the same day.
  • There are 20 SAT Subject Tests in five general subject areas: English, history, languages, mathematics and science.
  • Tip: If possible, students should aim to take their SAT Subject Tests close to the time they take the final or AP exam for that subject to cut down on study time.
    • May or June test dates are generally preferred for this reason.
    • Students may want to take 1 or 2 subjects at the end of sophomore year if they excel in a subject that year.