SAT or ACT?
Odyssey is happy to discuss this issue with parents and students; there are a number of substantive differences between the two tests. We believe this question is best addressed in the fall of junior year, when there is time to administer an SAT/ACT diagnostic, make a determination about which test is more appropriate, and then subsequently undertake a course of study.
In general, we do not believe that the two tests should be studied for concurrently. Although some students do end up taking both the SAT and ACT, we believe that the two tests should not be prepared for at the same time. Doing so, in our experience, only leads to higher levels of stress and unnecessary confusion regarding the content and structure of each test.
Below, we have provided basic information about each test:
The SAT might be the test of best fit if:
- Your child is strong in Math, which is ½ of the test
- Your child can stay focused on a long reading section (the SAT Reading Test is 65 minutes, while the ACT Reading Test is only 35 minutes)
- Your child can accurately answer difficult math questions without the use of a calculator (the SAT features a 25-minute math section that does not allow the use of a calculator)
- Your child does well with composing longer essays that require careful analysis of a given text (the SAT essay is 50 minutes long, 10 minutes longer than the ACT Essay)
The ACT might be the test of best fit if:
- Your child reads and analyses quickly (the ACT Reading Test is fast-paced and features 40 questions that need to be answered in only 35 minutes)
- Your child is more academic than test savvy (the ACT is more akin to a test he or she would take in school)
- Your child can efficiently read information related to science and answer questions relate to the designs and findings of experiments (the ACT features a 35-minute, 40-question Science Test)
In the table below, we also provide a concise comparison of the SAT and ACT:
SAT |
Category |
ACT |
3 hours and 50 minutes |
Test Length |
3 hours and 35 minutes |
Reading & Writing, Math, Essay (optional) |
Test Sections |
English, Math, Reading, Science, Writing (optional) |
5 (average section length: 46 minutes) |
Number of Sections |
5 (average section length: 43 minutes) |
Total SAT score ranges from 400 to 1600 |
Scoring |
Total ACT score ranges from 1 to 36 |
4 |
No. of Answers Within Multiple Choice Questions |
4 (except for math questions, which have 5 choices) |
No—you do not lose points for incorrect answers |
Penalty for Wrong Answers? |
No—you do not lose points for incorrect answers |
Difficulty level of questions is random, except during the Math test, where questions generally get harder |
Difficulty Level of Questions? |
Difficulty level of questions is random, except during the Math test, where questions generally get harder |
Math, Reading Comp., English Grammar, Usage, and Essay Composition |
Areas of Content |
English, Math, Reading Comp., Application of Scientific Principles, and Essay Composition |
Prealgebra, Algebra, Data Analysis, and Advanced Math Concepts (through Trigonometry) |
Levels of Math Tested |
Arithmetic, Algebra, Geometry, and Trigonometry |
Yes |
Math Formulas Provided? |
No |
No |
Is Vocabulary Tested? |
No |
Yes—although optional. Always the last section |
Essay? |
Yes—although optional. Always the last section |
Seven times a year |
How Often is it Administered? |
Six times a year |