Do you ever feel overwhelmed with the tremendous amount of decisions and pressure that you are faced with as you near your high school graduation? Maintaining a certain GPA, building a good resume, choosing a college, and applying for scholarships are all important steps in attaining admission to the school of your dreams. However, equally important is choosing whether to take the ACT or the SAT.

The ACTSAT or ACT and SAT are standardized tests that every    high school student must take in order to enter the college of his or her choice. This guide will help you discern which test is the right one for YOU. Before making a decision, look up whether the schools you are interested in accept the ACT or SAT. (This is usually listed on the undergraduate admissions page of your college’s website.) If all of the schools accept either test, choose the test that best suits your strengths. The ACT math section is harder than the SAT math section, while the SAT writing requires more knowledge of advanced vocabulary than the ACT English section. As Bonnie, CEO of The Brain Domain, says, “Choosing the correct test based on your strengths can make the difference between being accepted into your dream school and settling for your ‘last hope’ school. ”


  • Content-based test
  • Subjects: English, mathematics, reading and science
    • English: usage, mechanics and rhetorical skills (includes lots questions involving correcting sentences and paragraphs)
    • Math: arithmetic, algebra I and II, functions, geometry, and trigonometry. Formulas are not provided in the test booklet.
    • Reading: questions about facts and statements with implied meanings
    • Science: analyzing graphs and charts about science passages (It is NOT based on your knowledge of concrete science, but rather on how you can analyze material.)
  • Optional 30-minute writing test (Check with your schools to see if they require it.)
  • Test length: three hours and 25 minutes long (45 minutes for 75 English questions, 60 minutes for 60 mathematics questions, 35 minutes for 40 reading questions, 35 minutes for 40 science questions, 30 minutes for the optional writing test)
  • Difficulty levels of the questions is random
  • Scoring: each section can yield a score between 1-36. The composite ACT score is the average score of the four sections and ranges between 1-36.


  • Reasoning test
  • Subjects: critical reading, mathematics, and writing
    • Critical reading: sentence completion and critical thinking questions about the passages
    • Mathematics: arithmetic, data analysis, algebra I and II, functions, geometry. Formulas are provided in the test booklet.
    • Writing: multiple choice questions about vocabulary and an essay
  • Mandatory 25-minute essay
  • Test length: three hours and 45 minutes long (60 minutes writing, 70 minutes critical reading, 70 minutes mathematics, and 25 minutes variable unscored section)
  • Difficulty levels of the questions increase as you move through the sections.
  • Scoring: each section can yield a score between 200-800. The total SAT score ranges between 600-2400.

An advantage of the ACT is that you are not penalized for wrong answers.   Thus, one should answer every question because there is no penalty for guessing. The SAT penalizes 1/4 point for every wrong answer which means guessing is not favorable on this test. Bonnie suggests that if you can narrow your answer choices down to two or three options, you should guess; if you cannot narrow down your choices to two or three, skip the question. There is no penalty for omitting a question, only for answering incorrectly.

Bonnie recommends that more vocabulary/reading savvy test-takers take the SAT, while those who are stronger in math and analyzing graphs take the ACT. The SAT is focused on how you can use advanced reasoning to solve problems and favors those who read more frequently than peers. The ACT is focused on what you learned in high school; it aims to test the subject material in a straightforward way. Bonnie suggests, “Don’t let the science section of the ACT deter you from taking the test! For many students, the science section is actually the easiest part. If you’re nervous about it, find a test preparation specialist who can help you prepare adequately and boost your confidence. A confident test-taker is a successful test-taker.” The rest of us at The Brain Domain couldn’t agree more. If you would like to boost your confidence in either the SAT or ACT, just click that chat icon on the left side of your screen and we’ll be right with you! Or visit our Test Preparation page to learn more about how we can help.