Comparing the ACT v. SAT

Traditionally the SAT has been the most popular exam by both US universities and American students looking to get into college, but the ACT has become increasingly more popular. Our table below compares the two exams and their content.

Background College Board ACT, Inc.
Year Developed 1926 1959
Names Scholastic Aptitude Test, Scholastic Assessment Test American College Testing
Curriculum Does not mirror high school curriculum; does not measure raw math or verbal abilities. ACT incorporates the objectives for instruction for middle and high schools throughout the United States.
Demographic Popular with students on the East and West Coasts Popular with students in the Midwest and South
Test Takers Over 1.66 million in 2012 Over 1.66 million in 2012
Test Availability Offered 7 times a year in the US. (October, November, January, March or April, May, and June) Offered 4-6 times a year, depending on the state, in the US. (September, October, December, February, April, and June)
Cost $51US, and $91US International, excluding late fees. ACT assessment is $34, and the ACT assessment plus writing is $49.50.
Results Students get their SAT scores through My SAT Online Score Scores are sent to the student, his/her high school, and up to 4 colleges.
Timing 3 hours and 45 minutes 3 hours and 25 minutes
Format 3 portions: Critical Reading, Mathematics, and Writing 4 portions: English, Mathematics, Reading and Science Reasoning
Scoring Scale 600-2400, combining test results from three 800 point sections. 1-36, all scores are integers. Composite score is the average of all four tests.
Scoring Rules Each correct answer is worth 1 raw point; for each incorrect answer, 1/4 of a raw score is deducted. No points are deducted for incorrect math grid-in questions. Each question answered correctly is worth 1 raw point. No penalty for incorrect answers on the multiple-choice part.
Averages 2013 Average for Reading/Verbal is 496 and Math is 514 Mean composite score is 18, with a standard deviation of 6.
Optional Portions With the new SAT in 2016, the essay will become optional. Writing test is optional, with scores ranging from 2-12.
Retaking options Yes, students are allowed to retake the test to improve their scores. Yes, students are allowed to retake the test to improve their scores.
Calculators Allowed Four-function, scientific and graphing calculators are permitted in the Math section. Yes, calculators are allowed in the Mathematics section; but computer algebra systems are not allowed.
Section Breakdown
English Critical Reading:
2 x 25 minute sections
1 x 20 minute section
45 minute section for 75 questions
Mathematics Critical Reading:
2 x 25 minute sections
1 x 20 minute section
60 minute section for 60 questions This is the only section that has 5 answer choices.
Reading N/A 35 minute section for four 10-question passages
Science Reasoning N/A
35 minute section for 40 questions
Writing Multiple choice questions and a brief essay Optional; 30 minutes to write an essay in response to a given prompt. Score affects the English section only.