SAT vs. ACT: The Ins and Outs of Each Test

Junior year is notorious for being the most stressful year of high school, and for good reason. Juniors must take their most challenging courses yet, start the college search and answer a very important question — what do they want to do with their life? On top of everything else, all juniors at Ledyard High School must take the SATs. But are the SATs really the best option? If a junior is hoping to get into college, he/she must include scores from some standardized test on their application. Generally, juniors use SAT scores. But, in recent years, many seniors across the country have turned to the ACT instead. What’s the difference?

Here’s a basic rundown of the two tests:


  • SAT: Reading, Writing & Language, and Math sections, plus an optional essay.
  • ACT: Reading, English, Math, and Science Reasoning sections, plus an optional essay. The science section assesses the test taker’s critical thinking skills, rather than their knowledge of concrete science.


  • SAT: Separate no calculator and calculator sections. Most are multiple choice, but some are open-ended.
  • ACT: Calculators can be used on all problems, and all of them are multiple choice.

Time Constraints

  • SAT: Testing time ranges from 3 hours to 3 hours and 50 minutes (depending on whether the student takes the essay or not). Generally, there is ample time to think about each question and consider all the options before making a decision.
  • ACT: Testing time ranges from 2 hours and 55 minutes to 3 hours and 40 minutes (again, depending on the essay). Typically, the ACT has more questions than the SAT and requires the test-taker to think quickly and work efficiently. Students who have difficulty finishing tests in class may be seriously crunched for time taking the ACT.


  • SAT: scored on a scale of 400-1600.
  • ACT: scored on a scale of 1-36.
  • During the college admission process, test scores are judged comparatively. For example, a 1600 on the SAT is equal to, and is no better or worse than, a 36 on the ACT. Admission offices recommend taking only one test and submitting only one score. Contrary to popular belief, submitting an extra score won’t help, and it doesn’t have any observable benefits. They scores show colleges the same thing individually. It’s like saying the carton is 5 cups full and also 0.3125 gallons full.

Test Structure

  • SAT: Questions generally appear in order of difficulty.
  • ACT: Questions are randomly sequenced throughout the test.

Testing Dates

  • SAT: Administered seven times a year — January, March/April, May, June, October, November and December. Test-takers must register four weeks before the testing date.
  • ACT: Administered six times a year — February, April, June, September, October and December. Students need to register six weeks before the testing date.

Neither test is “better” than the other. Thanks to the comparative scoring system, whichever one a student submits will look the same to a college as the other. Green Test Prep recommends taking only one, as adding a second score to your application is no help and may end up being a hindrance. Of course, for Ledyard High School juniors, who are automatically signed up to take the SATs on April 5th, that may mean just sticking with the SAT. However, the Princeton Review recommends setting aside some time to take a full-length practice test for both to help make the decision of which to take.

Best of luck to all test-taking juniors!  

Rachel Kane, Staff Writer

Junior Rachel Kane is a staff writer for the 2016-2017 Colonel. Aside from playing varsity soccer and tennis, she is also the secretary of Tri-M and dances outside of school.


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