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Standardized Tests for U.S Universities: SAT vs ACT


For many high school students, gaining admission to a university in the United States is a crucial goal. However, this path often requires clearing the hurdle of standardized testing. These assessments serve as a yardstick for evaluating a student's capabilities, laying the foundation for their academic journey. Among the recognized tests, the SAT, ACT, GRE, GMAT, and IELTS are prominent gatekeepers to higher education in the United States.

However, the SAT and ACT serve as a common benchmark for colleges and universities to evaluate a student's readiness for higher education. They help admissions officers make informed decisions about applicants' academic abilities. Let's delve deeper and gain a comprehensive understanding of the two Standardized Tests for U.S Universities: SAT vs ACT.

Standardized Tests for U.S Universities:  SAT vs. ACT
Source: TUN

SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test):

The SAT is a standardized test widely used for college admissions in the United States. It's designed to assess a student's readiness for higher education and is typically taken by high school students in their junior or senior years. The exam is 2 hours and 14 minutes long, consisting of two broad sections - Reading + Writing and Maths Sections. Each section is divided into two modules, where a certain number of questions are tested.

1. Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW):

  • Reading: This section assesses reading comprehension skills through passages from various sources.

Number of questions: About 52 questions (based on five passages).

Time: 65 minutes

  • Writing and Language: This part evaluates a student's ability to analyze and improve written passages, focusing on grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure.

Number of questions: About 44 questions (based on multiple passages).

Time: 35 minutes

2. Math:

  • The Math section assesses mathematical skills in algebra, problem-solving, data analysis, geometry, and some basic trigonometry. It includes both multiple-choice and grid-in questions.

  • Number of questions: About 58 questions in total (divided into two portions: one where a calculator is allowed and one without a calculator).

  • Time: 55 minutes(for about 38 questions- with calculator)

25 minutes(for 20 questions- no calculator)

3. Optional Essay (SAT Essay):

  • The Essay is optional and provides students with an opportunity to showcase their analytical writing skills. It involves analyzing a provided passage and crafting an essay based on the author's argument.

  • Time: 50 minutes

ACT (American College Testing):

The ACT is another standardized test used for college admissions and is also taken by high school students, typically in their junior or senior years. The ACT exam is 2 hours and 55 minutes long and includes around 215 questions spread across different sections. ACT exam is divided into four sections, namely:

1. English:

  • The English section evaluates grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, and rhetorical skills through multiple-choice questions.

  • Number of questions: 75

  • Time: 45 minutes

2. Maths:

  • This section covers various mathematical topics, including pre-algebra, elementary algebra, intermediate algebra, coordinate geometry, plane geometry, and trigonometry.

  • Number of questions: 60

  • Time: 60 minutes

3. Reading:

  • The Reading section assesses reading comprehension skills. Students answer questions based on several passages, testing their understanding and analysis of written material.

  • Number of questions: 40(based on 4 Reading passages)

  • Time: 35 minutes

4. Science:

  • Contrary to its name, the Science section evaluates a student's ability to interpret and evaluate scientific information and data. It does not require advanced scientific knowledge but focuses on critical thinking skills.

  • Number of questions: 40

  • Time: 35 minutes

5. Optional Writing (ACT Writing):

  • The Writing section is optional and requires students to craft an essay responding to a prompt. This Essay assesses a student's ability to articulate and develop ideas.

  • Time: 40 minutes

Let's take a closer look at some key differences between these two exams.





Assesses reasoning, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills in reading, writing, and math.

Evaluates knowledge in English, math, reading, science, and reasoning.


​Reading, Writing and Language, Math, Optional Essay

​English, Math, Reading, Science, Optional Writing

Time Duration

2 hrs 14 minutes

​2 hrs 55 min (without essay)

3 hrs 35 min (with essay)


​Scored on a scale of 400-1600 for overall score. Essay scored separately.

Scored on a scale of 1-36 for each section. Essay scored separately.

Time Allocation

Reading: 65 minutes

Writing: 35 minutes

Math: 80 minutes

Optional Essay: 50 minutes

English: 45 minutes

Math: 60 minutes

Reading: 35 minutes

Science: 35 minutes

Optional Writing: 40 minutes

Calculator use

​Allowed for part of the Math section.

​Allowed for the entire Math section.

Examination fee

Basic fee- $43

International testing fee- $60

Check the official website for regular updates.

Basic fee(without essay)- $68

Basic fee(with essay)- $93

International testing fee- $57.50

Check the official website for regular updates.

Choosing the Right Fit: Factors to Consider

Subject Proficiency:

If you're confident in specific subjects or excel in science reasoning, the ACT might suit your strengths. However, if reasoning and critical thinking are your forte, the SAT might align better with your skill set.

Time Management:

Consider your testing pace. Are you comfortable with a quicker pace for more questions (ACT) or do you prefer more time to deliberate and reason through problems (SAT)?

University Preferences:

Research your target universities. Some institutions have preferences for one test over the other. Understanding their requirements is crucial for a strategic application process.


When it comes to standardized tests for college admissions, the ACT and SAT are two of the most popular options. Both tests have their own unique benefits and drawbacks, so it's important to choose the one that best aligns with your strengths and goals. Ultimately, the decision between the two often depends on personal preference and the requirements of the schools you're interested in attending. To make an informed decision, take the time to research both tests and consider your own strengths and weaknesses before making a choice.

We know and understand that the application process can be overwhelming, so we are here for you. The study abroad experts at Hello Study Global are there for you every step of the way. From preparing for entrance exams to college applications, we will guide you to success.

Feel free to reach out to us at Hello Study Global.