High School 2 College

February 20, 2016

SAT or ACT Comparison Chart

Have you taken the old SAT but you weren’t thrilled with your scores and would like to take the test again?  Bad luck!  Students who signed up for the January test took the last test of the old variety.  Sadly, the new SAT is nothing like the old SAT, but it IS astonishingly like the ACT.  Why?  Well, the College Board says it’s to align their test more closely with the Common Core, but I think it’s because more students in the U.S. over the past two years took the ACTs than the SATs — and there’s no sign that the trend is slowing down.

I don’t know of one college that doesn’t accept either the SAT or the ACT.  There indeed used to be a preference for the SAT among the east coast and west coast colleges and among the most elite schools, but that’s no longer true.  Whichever test you feel best reflects your abilities is fine for all American colleges.

For the majority of my students, the ACT is the way to go, at least for the next two years until the College Board works out the kinks in the new SAT. If you do decide to take the new SAT, be aware that you won’t get your scores back until at least May (at least that’s what the College Board is saying now).  Furthermore, there are only four practice SATs of the new variety, but there are plenty of old ACTs around to practice on.  Disappointingly, the SATs had promised guidance counselors and tutors that there would be several new practice tests prepared by the Khan Academy online tutoring site, but when the College Board received the proposed tests, they scrapped them.  No one knows when additional SAT practice tests will be available.  Just as disappointingly, the ACT people had promised a new book in January, because the ACTs changed as well.   Their changes were subtle, and perhaps no one but a tutor who works with those tests 5 or 6 days a week would notice the changes, but it would have been nice to have new tests.  A new book was indeed published in January — but it had the exact same tests as the old book!  The ACT people admitted that their new tests weren’t ready, but they needed to put out a new book to fulfill a contractual obligation to a new printer.  So if you’re going to take the ACTs, buy the least expensive version of the book you can find as long as it has 5 practice tests.

So you can compare the old SAT, the new/current SAT, and the ACT, I’ve included a handy chart below.  Let me know if  you have any questions.

Wendy Segal



  old SAT new SAT ACT
number of choices in multiple choice question 5 4 4 (most sections)
penalty for guessing yes no no
questions range from easy to hard yes no, except math no
multiple choice sections 9 4 4
overall length – multiple choice sections 200 min. 180 min. 175 min.
length of shortest section 10 min. 25 min. 35 min.
length of longest section 25 min. 65 min. 60 min.
sections alternate (random order) yes no no
problem solutions in practice book no yes yes
  old SAT new SAT ACT
New SAT scores for March will not be back until May
Years of practice tests for ACT, but only four practice tests for SAT
Optional essay isn’t really optional on either test – many colleges require the essay section
Colleges don’t prefer one test over the other
  old SAT new SAT ACT
number of math sections 3 2 1
focus on geometry yes no no
logic questions in math section yes no no
calculator permitted all math sections some math sections all math sections
essay position first last last
essay length 25 min. 50 min. 40 min.
essay status mandatory optional optional
essay affects overall combined score yes no no
essay topic opinion analysis analysis
graph/chart analysis none always (embedded in reading) always (separate section)
extended science reading none always always
unfamiliar vocabulary yes, separate questions yes, imbedded in questions never
number of sections 3 1 1
  old SAT new SAT ACT
question types replace sentence sections, find errors in sentences, editing in paragraph editing in paragraph editing in paragraph
number of sections 2 1 1
ACT website:
SAT website:

Wendy Segal’s website:

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Wendy Segal Tutoring
Best SAT workbook:
The Official SAT Study Guide
Best ACT workbook:
Real ACT
Best SAT Subject Test workbook:
The Official Study Guide for ALL SAT Subject Tests

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