Understanding the difference makes you better prepared.

The new SAT requires similar skills and tests similar content to that of the ACT and current SAT. Many of the changes to the new SAT’s format will make it look a lot like the ACT, but the SAT will retain its focus as an aptitude test. Among the biggest changes to the SAT are a sharper focus on critical-thinking, an emphasis on real-world problems, a new scoring system, and an overhaul of the essay section. Overall, the redesigned SAT will place a bigger emphasis on problem-solving and understanding context. Comparatively, the ACT will remain more of an achievement test, requiring a broad knowledge of many concepts, as well as considerable speed and endurance.

Old SAT New SAT 2016 ACT
Format & Length 10 short sections:
  • 3 Critical Reading; 3 Mathematics; 3 Writing (including Essay); 1 experimental (not scored)
  • Questions have 5 answer choices
  • Total testing time: 3 hours 45 minutes
5 long sections (of 4 tests and an optional essay):
  • Writing & Language; Reading; 2 Math; Essay
  • Questions have 4 answer choices
  • Total testing time: 3 hours 50 minutes (with essay)
5 long sections (of 4 tests and an optional essay):
  • English; Mathematics; Reading; Science; Writing (optional essay)
  • Most questions have 4 answer choices (Math has 5)
  • Total testing time: 3 hours 25 minutes (with essay)s
Scoring Combined score: 600-2400
  • Critical Reading: 200-800; Math: 200-800; Writing: 200-800
  • Writing score comprised of Multiple Choice and Essay subscores
  • 1/4 point deduction for incorrect answers
Combined score: 400-1600
  • Evidence-Based Reading and Writing: 200-800; Math: 200-800
  • Essay score reported separately
  • No wrong answer penalty
Composite score: 1-36 (average of 4 tests)
  • English: 1-36; Math: 1-36; Reading: 1-36; Science: 1-36
  • Writing score not factored into Composite score
  • No wrong answer penalty
Writing/English Identify and correct errors in single sentences
  • Standard English grammar and usage
  • Punctuation not tested Limited and predictable set of errors
Revise and edit a piece of writing for logical structure and effective rhetoric
  • Standard English grammar and usage
  • punctuation
  • logical structure
  • effective rhetoric
  • includes informational graphics
Revise and edit a piece of writing for logical structure and effective rhetoric
  • Standard English grammar and usage
  • punctuation
  • logical structure
  • effective rhetoric
  • commonly confused words
Math Arithmetic, Algebra I and II, Geometry
  • Apply core math skills to solve mostly non-standard, tricky problems
  • Formulas provided 10 Grid-In questions (no answer choices)
Pre-Algebra through basic Trigonometry
  • Strong emphasis on Algebra
  • Calculator prohibited on one section
  • 12 Grid-In questions (no answer choices)
  • 1 Extended Thinking question (4 points)
Pre-Algebra through basic Trigonometry
  • Math tested in straightforward manner
  • Extensive range of concepts tested emphasis on word problems
  • Formulas not provided
Reading Vocabulary-based sentence completions. Total of 7 short and long reading passages
  • Many inference, tone, purpose questions
  • Questions follow order or passage
Vocabulary de-emphasized 4 long passages and 1 paired passage
  • 2 passages include diagrams/charts
  • 1 passage from US founding documents
4 long passages
  • Very little emphasis on vocabulary
  • Straightforward questions that require close reading of passage
  • Order of questions is random
  • Less time per question
Science No Science section No Science section, but Science questions are included throughout the Math, Reading, and Writing & Language tests 40 questions, 7 passages
  • Emphasis on charts, diagrams, etc.
  • Science is a reasoning test
  • Does not require prior science knowledge
Essay 25 minutes, always first section
  • Broad theme
  • Can be approached formulaically or creatively
50 minutes, always last section
  • Analyze a passage and evaluate author’s reasoning and rhetoric
  • Students’ opinions discouraged
  • Essay is scored on 2-8 scale on three traits (Reading, Analysis, and Writing)
  • Optional but required by most colleges
30 minutes, always last section
  • Narrow topic relevant to high school students
  • Demands a more structured response
  • Optional, but required by most colleges

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