Format of the ACT and SAT

What is the format of the ACT? What is the format of the SAT? How do they compare?

SAT Math

SAT Math

When students reach their sophomore and junior years of high school, they are faced with a choice.  If they are planning to go ahead and attend college they must take a standardized test, and they obviously want to do their best.  The SAT and ACT, as the two standardized test choices that are presented to American students, share many similarities but also differ greatly.  One of the main ways the SAT and ACT differ is in their respective formats.


The SAT consists of ten sections.  Three of these sections test you on math, three of these sections test you on reading, and three of these sections test you on writing.  The last section is called the experimental section and can test you either in math, science, or writingThe experimental section of the SAT is not graded but is a way the College Board (the institution that creates and administers the test) can try out new questions.  You must take this section and will have no idea which section is the Experimental section.

The three SAT Math sections break down as follows: one section consists of twenty multiple choice questions, one section consists of sixteen multiple choice questions, and finally one section consists of eight multiple choice questions and ten questions that require the student to fill in the answer herself.

The three SAT Reading sections break down as follows: one section consists of twenty-four questions that includes eight vocabulary questions and sixteen reading comprehension questions, one section consists of twenty four questions that includes five vocabulary questions and nineteen reading comprehension questions, and finally one section consists of nineteen questions that includes six vocabulary questions and thirteen reading comprehension questions.

The three SAT Writing sections break down as follows: one section consists of a persuasive essay that you are given twenty-five minutes to write, one section consists of thirty-five multiple choice questions on grammar, and finally one section consists of fourteen multiple choice questions on grammar.


The ACT on the other hand consists of five sections. One section tests English, one section tests Math, one section tests Science, one section tests Reading, and one section is an optional persuasive essay.  The English section of the ACT consists of seventy-five questions relating to 5 passages of writing. These multiple choice questions, which you are given forty-five minutes to complete, test both your knowledge of grammar and your command and understanding of style.  The Math section consists of sixty multiple- choice questions that you are given sixty minutes to complete.  The reading section consists of 40 reading comprehension questions that refer to four passages. Thirty-five minutes are allotted for this section.  The science section consists of forty questions that you are given thirty-five minutes to complete.  These forty questions refer to seven passages that describe the results of experiments and competing scientific explanations.  Finally you are given thirty minutes to complete an optional essay.  If you complete the writing portion of the ACT, it can count for both the SAT I and SATII to many colleges.

The SAT takes a total of three hours and forty-five minutes to complete, with some additional time added in for the administration and proctoring of the test.  However, within that span of time you are continually switching between subject matter and the test is broken down into more bite sized pieces.  The ACT on the other hand, takes two hours and fifty-five minutes without the essay, and three hours and twenty minutes with the essay.  In this slightly shorter amount of time you are required to focus on single subjects for a much longer span of time, however once your are done with a subject, you are really done with it – a difference from the SAT.

Both these tests are challenging and rewarding, and the only way to get a really good sense of which one is a better fit for you is to take a mock SAT test and a mock ACT test and compare them.  CATES offers free mock – tests every weekend, so come down and see which test works for you.

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