The ACT depends more on content than thinking. The SAT depends more on thinking than content.  There is no negative marking for incorrect answers on either exam.

ACT Reading SAT Critical Reading
40 questions in 35 minutes 52 questions in 65 minutes
  • 3-4 single passages and 0-1 dual passages
  • Does not include graphs, figures, and diagrams
  • Favors students who are good at synthesizing a lot of information in a short time as there is more reading than the SAT
  • 4 single passages and 1 dual passages
  • Includes graphs, figures, and diagrams
  • Often more manageable than the ACT reading; students rarely struggle to finish
ACT English (grammar) SAT Writing (grammar)
75 questions in 45 minutes 44 questions in 35 minutes
  • Edit and answer questions for five different passages.
  • No graphs or charts included
  • Edit and answer questions for four passages
  • Emphasizes student’s command of evidence, both verbal and graphical
ACT Math SAT Math
60 problems to solve in 60 minutes 38 problems to solve in 55 minutes
(Calculator Section)
20 problems to solve in 25 minutes
(No Calculator Section)
  • Can always use a calculator
  • Provides no reference formulas
  • Includes questions about equation of a circle and ellipse
  • Includes logarithms
  • Has a section where calculators are prohibited
  • Provides some geometric formulas for reference
  • Does not include formula of a circle or ellipse
  • Does not include logarithms.
ACT Essay SAT Essay
1 essay topic in 40 minutes 1 essay topic in 50 minutes
  • The Essay section is optional and is not part of the composite score
  • Students critically engage with a topic and three provided perspectives/ways of thinking about the topic
  • Scored by two graders on a scale of 1-36
  • The Essay section is optional and is not part of the overall score
  • Students construct a rhetorical analysis of a provided source text
  • Scored by two graders on a scale of 6-24
ACT Science
40 questions in 35 minutes
  • Students must quickly analyze trends presented in graphs, tables, and figures
  • Asks questions about experimental design and results

To score high students can use Socrato to practice online and get insights beyond scores. Socrato’s Companion Series helps you get the most from your Official Study Guide.