There are two major differences between the ACT and SAT that students should know about. High school students will prepare to take the ACT and SAT to hopefully enter the college or university of their choice.

Depending on the college or university, one of the tests might be required. However, some colleges are not specific and will accept either test score for admission review. If the college accepts both tests, then it is up to the student to decide whether to take both or one or the other.

Below are some items to think about when reviewing which test to take for college entrance requirements.  There are a few other little differences between the ACT and SAT, but these are the most questioned items about the tests.

Content in ACT and SATCredit: Toni Petrovic

Material Tested

While both exams test on high school learned material, the areas where they test are a little different. Students should assess their vocabulary, math and science skills to decide which test would be best for them to take and score well.

The SAT has three areas that make up the total score. They include Critical Reasoning (reading), math and writing. This is an aptitude test measuring verbal and reasoning skills. Critical thinking and problem-solving are the focus of this test. The SAT has a lot more vocabulary.

The ACT has four to five areas that make up the total score. They include English, writing (optional), math, reading and science. This is an achievement test measuring what students have learned in school. Content is the focus of this test. The math section includes trigonometry and the ACT tests for English grammar.



Both the ACT and SAT include a scoring calculation taken from the results of each subject area and a few other factors. Both exams are given at designated high schools, community colleges and universities. Students can take the tests multiple times but need a period of 60 days between each test.

The SAT total achievable score is a 2400. Note that some schools do not take the writing part into consideration and only use the scores out of 1600 total points. Incorrect answers result in point deductions.

The ACT total achievable score is a 36. Note that some schools want all testing portions completed for the composite score. Points are not deducted for incorrect answers.

Material tested and scoring are the two major differences between the ACT and SAT. Students should consider their strengths and decide which would be the best route to take that will give them the best score. Studying for the ACT or SAT usually results in the best scores.