Printable PDF (All information is also in text below): ACT vs SAT

March, May, and June are optimum testing months for juniors. We have free ACT, SAT Reasoning, and SAT Subject test prep booklets as well as many practice books available for check out from the College Center, to help students prepare for these tests; in addition, there is free test-prep available online in Naviance for self-directed students.

SAT Test vs. ACT Test – Content (scoring in parentheses)

SAT: Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (200-800), Math, (200-800) Optional Essay (2-8 each on 3 dimensions)

Evidence-Based Reading and Writing
Reading 52 questions, 65 min; Writing and Language 44 questions, 35 min

  • Reading passages
    • Passages: social science, science, class/contemporary work, US founding documents of inspired work
  • Examine hypotheses, interpret data, consider implications
  • Command of evidence
    • Support an answer or basis for conclusion
    • How used to support claims
    • Interpret data in info graphic or understand relationship between graphic and passage
  • Words in context
    • Meaning
    • How word choice shapes meaning, style, tone

Math: 58 questions, 80 min

  • Problem solving
  • Data analysis
  • Algebra
  • Advanced Math

Calculators only allowed sometimes

Optional Essay: 1 essay, 50 min

  • Essay – analysis in response to written source text
  • At end of SAT

ACT: English (1-36), Math (1-36), Reading (1-36), Science (1-36), Writing-optional (Subscore
 2 – 12; will count for 1/3 of the English/Writing score)

English: one section, 75 questions, 45 min

  • Production of writing
    • Topic development
    • Organization, unity & cohesion
  • Knowledge of language
    • Word choice
    • Style
    • Tone
  • Conventions of standard English

Math: one section, 60 questions

  • Preparing for higher math
    • Number and quantity
    • Algebra
    • Functions
    • Geometry
    • Statistics & probability
  • Integrating Essential Skills
  • Modeling

Reading: one section, 40 questions, 35 min

  • Key ideas and details
  • Craft and structure
  • Integration of knowledge and ideas

Science- reasoning: 40 questions, 35 minutes

  • Interpretation of data
  • Scientific investigation
  • Evaluation of modes, inferences & experimental results

Writing- optional, 40 minutes

  • Essay—analyze and evaluate perspectives given, state and develop your own perspective and explain the relationship between your perspective and those given
  • At end of ACT

For information about converting SAT scores to ACT scores, see:

SAT Reasoning vs. ACT

You should consider the kind of test that bests suits you--your academic strengths and learning (testing) style.  

Here are some other things to consider:

SAT Subject Tests (a.k.a. SAT IIs)

If students are considering colleges that require SAT Subject tests, it is important to take these tests soon for subjects that you will not be continuing to study in high school.  For example, if you have completed a third year of a language as a junior, do not plan to take a fourth as a senior, and want to take the subject test in this language, you should plan to take the exam this spring.  We encourage juniors to take these subject tests close to the completion of the related coursework.

Things to consider:

  • 1 hr. test
  • You may take up to three tests at one sitting (but you can’t take the SAT Reasoning and SAT Subject tests on the same day)
  • Some selective private colleges may require 0-3 subject tests
  • If considering math for UC, take Math 2C*
  • Subjects offered:
    • Literature
    • Biology
    • Chemistry
    • Math, Level 1 and 2
    • U.S. History
    • World History
    • Languages
      • Chinese
      • French
      • German
      • Hebrew (Modern)
      • Japanese
      • Korean
      • Latin
      • Spanish
  • For a list of colleges that require SAT Subject tests (and how many), see the
  • Some, selective private colleges accept the ACT in lieu of SAT Subject tests; such colleges are marked with an asterisk on this chart:

* While SAT Subject Tests are not required, some campuses recommend that students vying for slots in competitive majors take the tests to demonstrate subject proficiency.  For more information, see:

Information about score reporting:

  • While both the SAT and ACT have a Score Choice reporting policy allowing students to choose which scores from which test administration, some colleges require students to report scores from all tests taken.  Check the colleges’ websites for their requirements.
  • Tips for Saving Money when Sending SAT and/or ACT Test Scores
    • UCs
      When preparing to submit the UC application, authorize the release of your application information with all UC campuses (it's the first release on the screen with the affadavits). If you do so, then the official test scores sent to any one UC campus will be shared with the UC Office of the President and accessible to all of the UC campuses system-wide.  This can save you money!
    • CSUs
      Send scores to multiple campuses for free or the price of one campus! Select one campus during test registration and it’s free; request a score report to one CSU after you take the test (for a modest fee) and later release scores to additional campuses for free.
      • SAT: Use school code 3594. Do so, either when you register for the SAT or after you take the test and request a score report. This code will send your SAT scores to the Chancellor's Office in Long Beach (i.e. all of the CSU campuses for the price of one).
      • ACT: Request that your ACT scores are sent to one of the CSUs and they’ll be shared with all the others.
  • At the time of registration, the testing companies offer you 4 free score reports to send to colleges; you can request scores to be sent later, at the time of application, for a per-college fee.  Please note that if, on your SAT/ACT registration, you list colleges where you want your scores sent, the UCs and CSUs will keep the scores for 2 years.
  • If you use a fee-waiver to register for the SAT, this entitles you to 4 additional free score reports for colleges, at the time of registration.  Please note this is 4 total score reports, not 4 per test registration.  Also, the SAT registration fee waiver entitles you to 4 college application fee waivers.  The ACT offers test registration fee waivers.  See a college advisor for more information about fee waivers.

SAT and ACT Test Prep

Both the College Board and ACT provide free test prep; you will find sample questions on their websites.  You can also pick up a full-length practice test brochure in the College Center (and use the instant SAT practice test scoring app: ) .

There is also free test prep available in Naviance. Students can take full-length, timed practice tests (in sections, if they wish) and listen to a professional tutor explain the concepts and questions that they are struggling with. Students get immediate feedback and a complete explanation for every practice question. From the Home page in Naviance, click the "Prep Me" hyperlink under the Resources header in the left-side navigation panel.  Please note that the SAT test prep hasn’t yet been updated for the 2017 exam.

Finally, personalized SAT practice is also available through Khan Academy.  After receiving PSAT scores, students login to the College Board website and select to send their PSAT score report from the College Board to Khan Academy; Khan Academy will analyze the score report to create a personalized road map to help improve your skills and then offer practice tests.  The practice test assessments are dynamic and change as students acquire skills.

Ten Brief Test Taking Tips for Standardized Tests

  1. Be sure to read and pay careful attention to all directions.
  2. Read every possible answer because the best one could be the last one.
  3. Work as rapidly as possible, but don’t work carelessly.
  4. Eliminate answers that you are certain are incorrect.
  5. Don’t spend too long on any one question.  Instead, skip difficult questions and move on.  Mark the questions in the test booklet to which you need to return.  Be careful to skip that same question on the answer sheet.  Return to these questions if time permits.
  6. Make sure to record every answer in the correct place on the answer sheet.  If you change an answer, be sure to erase changes completely.
  7. Because the ACT test and Redesigned SAT do NOT subtract points for incorrect answers, you should make an “educated guess” and not leave questions blank.
  8. Use every minute of the time given for the test.  If you finish early, go back and complete questions skipped, make you sure have not mismarked the answer sheet, and check your work.
  9. Being familiar with the testing format and procedures will help you do your best.  Best sure to take some practice tests prior to test day.
  10. Don’t forget to bring your ID, pencil, calculator, and Admission Ticket (be sure you’ve uploaded your photo by the deadline!) to the test!