ACT vs. SAT: Reading and Writing

When it comes to choosing whether to take the ACT or the SAT, you want to pick the test that is going to best suit your talents. College Admissions offices do not prefer one test over another; All you have to worry about is picking the one that plays to your skills.

To help you choose, we’ve created easy to read bulleted lists of the differences between the ACT and the SAT, with small tips and hints on how to pick the best one for you:


ACT Timing

  • English- 45 minutes, 75 questions

  • Math- 60 minutes, 60 questions

  • Reading- 35 minutes, 40 questions

  • Science- 35 minutes, 40 questions


SAT Timing

  • Reading- 65 minutes, 52 questions

  • Writing- 35 minutes, 44 questions

  • Math (no calculator)- 25 minutes, 20 questions

  • Math (calculator)- 55 minutes, 38 questions



  • The ACT has one Math and one Science, whereas the SAT has two Math sections.

  • The order of the sections is different.

    • ACT goes English, Math, Reading, Science

    • SAT goes Reading, Writing, Math 1, Math 2

  • Generally, the ACT is considered to have simpler questions, but students are given less time per question. The SAT is considered to have more complex questions with more time given per question.

  • A student should choose between the two tests based on their own skillset. Someone who is great at beating the clock may prefer the ACT. A student who is better at synthesizing and breaking down information but dislikes speed runs may prefer the SAT.



  • There is negligible difference between the SAT Writing and ACT English. This should not affect student choice.

  • ACT Reading passages are sourced from mostly contemporary sources, within the last 2-3 decades.

  • SAT Reading passages are sourced from the last three centuries and very often include primary sources.

  • SAT reading passages will often include data in charts or graphs which need to be synthesized with the passage.

  • SAT reading plays to the strengths of students who are good at comprehension and can tackle more complex questions but have trouble with timing. ACT reading on the other hand is composed of far more direct questions, but you are running against the clock.



  • The SAT does not have an essay section.

  • The ACT has an optional essay section.

  • Students hoping to show off stellar writing skills may choose to take the optional ACT essay, but overall the essay or lack thereof makes little difference in choosing between the two tests.


Keep an eye out for our second installment where we talk about the differences between ACT and SAT Math and Science!

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