Q&A: SAT or ACT?

Q: I’m rather confused with all the changes in the SAT and ACT. Can you advise what the changes are and which one my son should take?


A: Dear Michelle,

This is a very common question that we get at Aegis Advisors. Overall, the SAT and ACT are trying to measure the same thing: students’ abilities in math and English language. However, each test evaluates these things in different ways. A summary of their structural differences is below:

Test Structure4 sections:
Evidence-Based Reading (65 min)
Writing & Language (35 min)
Math – no calculator (25 min)
Math – calculator (55 min)
As of Fall 2021, the SAT no longer has an essay section
4 Tests:
English (45 min)
Math (60 min)
Reading (35 min)
Science (35 min)
Plus an optional Writing Test (1 essay, 40 min)
Score RangeTotal: 400-1600
Evidence-Based Reading & Writing 200-800
Math : 200-800
Composite: 1-36
English: 1-36
Math: 1-36
Reading: 1-36
Science : 1-36
Optional Writing scored separately
Timing3 hours2 hours 55 min (plus 40 minutes for optional essay)
Penalty for GuessingNo penaltyNo penalty

Which one should your son take?

This is a very personal decision and we recommend speaking to a private tutor for a more comprehensive evaluation, but here are some basic facts to keep in mind:

  • The SAT does not have a science section. Note, though, that the ACT science section doesn’t really test science. It tests student’s ability to logically process information presented in writing, graphs, and charts. Either way, if your son is weak in this area or simply dislikes science, then the SAT would be more suitable for him.
  • The ACT allows students to use the calculator throughout the test, and all answers are multiple choice. The SAT has a non-calculator section and also some grid-ins. So if your son prefers being able to use the calculator throughout, and being able to guess from the multiple choice answers, then the ACT would be more suitable for him.
  • The timing of the SAT is more comfortable, whereas the ACT forces students to work a bit faster. So if pacing is a concern, then the SAT might suit him better.
  • SAT questions tend to require more critical thinking skills while ACT questions tend to be more direct. Thus, while the SAT gives students more time to solve questions, they can be more challenging. If critical thinking is not your son’s strong suit then he should consider taking the ACT.

Still can’t decide?

Ask your son to spend an hour or two looking at the two tests. Then have him take a mock in the one he feels more comfortable with. If needed, take mock tests in both to see which he does better in. Regardless of your test choice, do take the mock test ASAP so you can identify the gap between his mock with his target test scores. He will likely need all the time in between to prepare accordingly.

Need help? Feel free to reach out to us today!