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SAT vs. ACT: The Complete Guide for 2022

Every college accepts both the SAT and ACT equally well. But that's not the end of the story. While it's true that the two tests are similar, some students still score significantly better on one than the other. So which test should you take? We are going to do a deep-dive SAT vs. ACT comparison, lay out a score conversion chart and try to figure out whether the SAT or ACT is the better test for you.

Table of Contents

1. SAT vs. ACT Comparison

2. SAT vs. ACT Score Conversion Chart

3. Which is better, the SAT or ACT?

4. Okay, but which is Easier?

5. SAT vs. ACT FAQ

SAT vs. ACT Comparison: The 3 Factors that Actually Matter

Since the SAT redesign in 2016, a lot of students do about the same on the SAT and the ACT (in terms of percentile). That's great news for students because it takes what would otherwise be a very big decision out of the process entirely. However, about 20% of students will see a significant difference between their scores on the two tests, and if you are trying to decide whether you should take the SAT or the ACT, you need to know if you are in that 20% of students. The score discrepancies can sometimes be significant.

One method of figuring that out is to request our SAT vs. ACT diagnostic test. The test is relatively short (1.5 hours) and will give you some actual data on which test is the right test for you or your student.

A lot of people have varying opinions on what constitutes the important differences between the SAT and ACT. Through years of experience, we believe we've pinpointed three specific differences that make up the majority of variation in student scores. Let's take a look.

SAT ACT diagnostic

Difference #1: The ACT is more of a time crunch than the SAT.

A lot of factors get a lot of attention in SAT vs. ACT comparisons. But one rises above the rest as a relevant and important factor for most students: timing.

The ACT Reading and Science portions can be an incredible time crunch for a lot of students. In the Reading section, students have only 35 minutes to read four passages and answer 40 questions! That's less than a minute per question, and that doesn't include reading the passages.

In contrast, the SAT Reading section contains 52 questions and five passages, but students get 65 minutes to complete it -- that's a minute and 15 seconds per question. The ACT science section can be a similar sort of time crunch, also giving students only 35 minutes to complete 40 questions and read multiple passages.

So why even consider the ACT? Well, if you can conquer these time limits, you might find that the actual questions aren't actually that hard. The ACT often relies on the time limit to make the sections hard rather than including a high percentage of difficult questions.

The SAT and ACT Reading sections both contain similar types of questions, but the ACT Reading has a higher percentage of simple "find the information in the passage" questions. Master the clock, and you might find that you've mastered the sections completely.

Difference #2: Math gets more weight on the SAT but is more straightforward on the ACT.

Math is probably the second most important difference in SAT vs. ACT comparisons. One factor a lot of people overlook is that math is half of a student's SAT score but only a fourth of a student's ACT score. If you are weak in math and want to "hide" your math score, know that a bad math score will hurt your ACT score less than your SAT score.

That's not the only factor, though. The actual math content tested on the ACT is slightly harder than the content tested on the SAT. The difference is small, though, it's possibly outweighed by the fact that math is much more straightforward on the ACT.

The ACT Math section actually feels something like high school math, whereas the SAT Math section sometimes feels like a whole different universe. Hard ACT Math questions are hard because they use hard math concepts, like logarithms or trigonometry graphs.

That might sound obvious, but hard SAT Math questions can often be tricky twists on relatively easy math. In fact, it's not unusual for the SAT to make difficult problems out of math most students learned by seventh grade. That doesn't mean the question is easy, of course (it's a difficult problem, after all). It just means that the thing that makes it hard is critical reasoning or problem solving rather than pure math ability.

Difference #3: The ACT has a science section.

We know what you're thinking: Finally, the obvious difference! It's true that this is probably the most obvious difference between the two tests, but it usually doesn't mean what students and parents think it means.

The ACT science section doesn't really test very much science knowledge. In fact, a student's science aptitude in school has very little to do with his or her performance on the ACT Science section.

The ACT Science section is passage-based, very rarely does a student need to know very much actual science. Instead, the skills that are being

tested are the ability to read charts and graphs, read and understand experiments and analyze scientific arguments that are being presented. Most of the experiments that are presented are intentionally above the level of typical high school science, but that doesn't matter because everything that is needed to answer the questions will be found in the passages.

So what does this mean for students doing SAT vs. ACT comparisons? It's a wild card. It's hard to predict whether the science section will represent a plus or a minus for a given student. The timing is tight, and this sections bears very little resemblance to what students do in school. On the other hand, this section really lends itself to consistent practice, and many times students can consistently see strong improvement if they are committed to doing the necessary work.

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SAT vs. ACT Comparison: Conversion Chart

The only thing that matters when comparing SAT and ACT scores is the percentile. Your goal as a test taker should be to get the highest possible percentile score you can manage, regardless of which test it happens on.

1600 36 99
1590 35 99
1580 35 99
1570 35 99
1560 34 99
1550 34 99
1540 34 99
1530 34 99
1520 33 98
1510 33 98
1500 33 98
1490 33 98
1480 32 97
1470 32 97
1460 31 96
1450 31 95
1440 30 94
1430 30 94
1420 30 93
1410 30 93
1400 29 92
1390 29 91
1380 29 90
1370 29 90
1360 28 89
1350 28 88
1340 27 87
1330 27 86
1320 27 85
1310 26 84
1300 26 83
1290 26 82
1280 25 81
1270 25 80
1260 25 78
1250 24 77
1240 24 76
1230 24 75
1220 24 74
1210 23 73
1200 23 72
1190 23 70
1180 22 68
1170 22 67
1160 22 66
1150 22 65
1140 22 64
1130 21 62
1120 21 61
1110 21 59
1100 20 57
1090 20 56
1080 20 55
1070 20 54
1060 20 53
1050 19 52
1040 19 50
1030 19 48
1020 18 46
1010 18 44
1000 18 42
990 17 40
980 17 38
970 17 36
960 17 35
950 16 33
940 16 31
930 16 29
920 16 28
910 15 27
900 15 25
890 15 24
880 15 22
870 14 21
860 14 19
850 14 18
840 14 16
830 13 15
820 13 14
810 13 13
800 13 11
790 13 10
780 12 9
770 12 9
760 12 8
750 12 7
740 12 6
730 12 5
720 11 5
710 11 4
700 11 4
690 11 3
680 11 3
670 11 3
660 11 2
650 10 2
640 10 2
630 10 1
620 9 1
610 9 1
600 9 1

Which is better, the SAT or ACT?

It would be great if we could just say "Hey, the SAT is better, so take that." But it wouldn't be true.

Years ago, one test might have actually been better for you than the other, and it all had to do with where you lived. Colleges in different parts of the country preferred one test over the other, so geography was a major factor when deciding which test to take.

Those days are gone. All colleges accept both tests equally well. You do not need to think about which college you want to attend when deciding which test to take. Instead, all you need to think about is which test is better for you. What's the best way to do that? With a diagnostic test. It's the best hour and a half you can spend. Why devote weeks or months of studying and prep toward the wrong goal?

Which test is easier, the SAT or ACT?

One of the most common questions we get is "Which is easier, the SAT or ACT?" But even if one test did cover easier content than the other (which is debatable), that test still shouldn't be considered easier. Why? Because these are standardized tests. That means you are being compared to other test takers.

Think about the difference between an easy test and a hard test at school. On the easy test, maybe half of students would get an A. That would be great because an A is an A -- unless your teacher is a real tough guy who grades on a curve, it doesn't matter how many people get an A. On a hard test, though, maybe half of people would get a C or worse. But the same situation exists: if you got a D, it doesn't help that a lot of other people got a D. You still have a bad grade.

Standardized tests are completely different. What we care about is getting the highest percentile score possible. That is, by definition, a comparison to other test takers. Is it easier to beat out 75% of other students on a hard test or an easy test? It probably doesn't matter because you have to be better than 75% of other students either way.

Rather than thinking about which test is easier, think about which test is better for you. If one is more naturally aligned to your personal strengths, you really might have an advantage relative to other students. The easiest way to figure out which test is right for you is to take our SAT vs. ACT diagnostic test.


The easiest points to pick up are the ones that come from picking the right test for you. We want to help.

Does it matter which college I want to go to?

Nope. All colleges accept both the SAT and ACT equally well. There was a time (years ago) when this mattered, but it doesn't anymore.

Is it true that the ACT is more math- and science-oriented?

Not really. We've heard this rumor, too, though. It's hard to figure out how it got started, but it's probably due to the fact that the ACT has a science section. But the total weight of math plus science is equal (50%) on the two tests. Math carries 50% of weight on the SAT, and math and science combine for 50% weight on the ACT. It's also important to remember that the ACT science section isn't real science -- it's more like a science-based reading passage test. It has little dependency on things you've learned in high school science classes.

Should I just prep for and take both tests?

Probably not. It's more efficient to figure out which test is right for you before you start splitting up your prep time. There are cases when a student might want to do both, but using our SAT vs. ACT diagnostic test. to see which test is right for you is probably a better first step.

Is it okay if I just pick one and go for it?

Yes! In fact, this is what most students do. Most students do comparably well on both the SAT and ACT, so there's nothing wrong with this approach. But keep in mind that our diagnostic test is only about an hour and a half long, so it's not hard to get some real data.

I've heard the SAT is more about what you can do and the ACT is more about what you've learned. Is this right?

This is probably an exaggeration, but there's an element of truth to it. The ACT tends to be a bit more straightforward, particularly in math. Its questions just look and feel more like high school math questions, whereas the SAT math section tends to make hard questions out of easy math concepts by requiring more math reasoning ability. These differences have diminished in recent years, but they're still there.

What is the single biggest difference between the SAT and ACT for most students?

Timing, no doubt. The ACT is much more time-constrained, particularly in the reading and science sections. Those two sections have the toughest timing challenges of any section on either test. If you struggle with timing on passage-based tests, the ACT probably isn't for you. However, if you can master the timing issue, you might find that the ACT questions are a tiny bit easier. The ACT does somewhat rely on the timing to make these two sections hard.

Is it easier to get extended timing on the SAT or ACT?

In our experience, the ACT is a bit stingier with extended timing requests. This is probably because they know extended time is a big benefit on the ACT due to the role the tighter time constraint plays. However, if you do get approved for extended time, this can make the ACT an easier test for you.