SAT Suite

Should You Take the SAT or ACT?

The SAT and ACT are both college entrance exams. More students (1.9 million in the class of 2023) take the SAT than any other admissions exam. You may think the SAT and ACT are basically the same, and that colleges in some states prefer the ACT while others favor the SAT. This is a common misconception. Most colleges in the U.S.—even if they’re test optional—accept scores from either exam for admissions decisions, course placement, financial aid, and other purposes. However, there are significant differences between the two that make the SAT better. 

Here’s an at-a-glance look at the major differences between the two tests (and why the SAT is a better test):  

At a Glance Comparison
FormatDigital everywherePaper in most places; limited availability of digital 
LengthAbout 2 hours (23% shorter) About 3 hours
Timing98 questions/134 minutes (1 minute 22 seconds per question—67% more time per question) 215 questions/175 minutes (49 seconds per question)
Reading PassagesAlways short with 1 question each Always long with 10 questions each 
Separate science sectionNo (science reasoning is measured across test sections)Yes
Built-in math reference sheet YesNo
Built-in graphing calculatorYes (Desmos)No
Registration fee $68 $68 (no essay) 
$93 (with essay) 
Official practice FREE in partnership with Khan Academy®—a not-for-profit $124 in partnership with Kaplan—a for-profit 
Fee waivers available Yes Yes 
  *Based on publicly released ACT information.

Fun Fact: No college considers scores from the essay portion of the SAT or the ACT in their admissions process.

Timing and Flexibility

Whether you plan to take the SAT or ACT or both, it’s a decision you should make sooner rather than later. You’ll want to give yourself enough time to practice and prepare and plan for a test date that works for you. Many students now take the SAT in school on a school day, either in the spring of their junior year or fall of their senior year. Ask your counselor if your school offers the SAT on a school day. Both the SAT and ACT also offer seven weekend test dates per year. The SAT is never administered on the same date as the ACT.  


The Digital Experience

The SAT is now digital. You’ll take it on the device you’re most familiar with—your own laptop, tablet, or school-issued Chromebook. The digital SAT takes 2 hours and 14 minutes, not including breaks. You’ll have 67% more time per question than on the ACT. The Reading and Writing section has 54 questions, and the Math section has 44 questions. Depending on where you live, if you’re taking the SAT in school on a school day, you may also have an essay section.

The digital SAT lets you show what you know, not your test-taking speed. Rather than focusing on how well you can recall information, it emphasizes the knowledge and skills you’ve learned in school and that you’ll need to succeed in college and careers and your ability to apply them in real-world scenarios. This is one of the reasons why you’ll find everyday math formulas and a built-in Desmos graphing calculator provided during the test and short reading passages with only one question each and representing diverse content.  

The ACT is still given on paper in most places. The test takes nearly 3 hours and gives you much less time per question. There are 4 sections: Reading (40 questions), English (75 questions), Math (60 questions), and Science (40 questions). It can also include an additional essay portion.  

ACT Education Corporation is piloting an experimental digital ACT. There’s limited availability for the digital option. Where it’s available, students who choose to take the digital test are randomly assigned to either take a full-length digital test (a digital version of the paper ACT) or a slightly shorter experimental test. Students won’t find out until test day which version they’ll be taking and will have no advance warning about being assigned to the experimental version. 

If you take the digital ACT, you’ll take it on a device assigned to you at the test center, which might be a Windows desktop or laptop or Chromebook.

Fun Fact: College Board has successfully delivered and scored over 8 million digital tests since 2023, making the digital SAT the most reliable and proven digital college entrance exam option.

Free Test Prep Tools  

Knowing how soon you’ll take the SAT or ACT will help you prepare. You wouldn’t run a marathon without building up your endurance beforehand. Test prep is a similar concept.  

You’ll need to become familiar enough with your exam of choice to identify your strengths and weaknesses. Then you can begin to focus on the areas you’ll need to improve on before test day. You’ll want to learn how to pace yourself to answer each question within the allotted time and to guess only when time demands that you move on.

Official practice tools for the SAT are completely free and include four full-length practice tests in Bluebook and Official Digital SAT Prep on Khan Academy.  



SAT scores range from 400 to 1600. There’s no such thing as a failing score and colleges consider many other factors in addition to your SAT score when reviewing applicants.  

For the ACT, scores are a composite ranging from 1 to 36.  

Want to compare your SAT score to your ACT? We have a concordance that shows score equivalency. For instance, if you get a total score of 1050 on the SAT (the national average) that would be equal to a 20 on the ACT.  


College Board vs. ACT Education Corporation

The SAT is run by College Board, a member-led, not-for-profit organization. College Board’s work is driven by member and educator input and an unwavering focus on students. In contrast, after being acquired by Nexus Capital Management, the ACT is now managed by a new for-profit company called ACT Education Corporation. As a public benefit corporation, the ACT Education Corporation has a mission, but that mission doesn't change the fundamental obligation of all for-profit companies—to generate a financial return for their owners.

There are lots of advantages to the SAT, and many students find it’s their best test. If you’re still not sure it’s right for you, consider taking a free SAT practice test to try it out. Some students take both exams, review their scores, and then decide which to submit to colleges.