Standardized tests are a significant factor in college admissions and winning scholarships. Determining whether you should take the ACT or SAT can be mind boggling and overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be! For some students, taking both exams can be beneficial, but that’s not always necessary. It’s important to check your potential college’s requirements and determine which may be needed.

Students are encouraged to make a test prep plan early in high school, including a goal to take the exam multiple times and complete the final test no later than December of their senior year (but ideally earlier). Taking the exams multiple times allows students to feel more comfortable with the exam. Being more comfortable means getting the desired results and getting into the college of their choice, while possibly having courses waived and earning merit-based scholarships!

What do the SAT & ACT have in common?

  • There is no penalty for a wrong answer.
  • Sections covered include: reading, writing/language(SAT)/English (ACT), math, and an optional essay.
  • Math section covers arithmetic, Algebra I & II, Geometry, and Trigonometry.
  • You will be at the testing site for 4-5 hours which includes break times.
  • Since they are standardized tests, they provide a direct comparison to other students; therefore, it’s important to obtain the best score possible.

Bonus Tip: Make a standardized testing plan early in your high school career to ensure you get the scores you want for your college applications. Mark your calendar and get registered in advance!


  • The ACT is offered six times per year: February, April, June, September, October, and December.
  • Registration is required 5-6 weeks in advance.
  • Questions are random in difficulty.
  • This exam requires students to interpret data and trends.
  • Calculators can be used on all sections of math; however, formulas are not given.
  • Math sections are all multiple choice.
  • Reading levels are 9th-12th grade.
  • Reading passages are long: 700-900 words each.
  • The essay portion requires the student to evaluate, analyze and defend an argument.

Bonus Tip: The ACT is a good test for those who can work at a quick pace and are fast readers.


  • The SAT is offered seven times per year: March or April, May, June, August (new in 2017), October, November, and December.
  • Registration is required 4 weeks in advance.
  • Questions get more difficult deeper into the section of questions.
  • A calculator cannot be used on all math sections; therefore, a student must be good at mental math.
  • Data analysis is also tested in the math sections.
  • Formulas are given for the math sections.
  • Reading levels are 11th grade through collegiate.
  • Reading passages are somewhat long: 500-750 words.
  • The essay portion requires comprehension and does not require the student to form an opinion or make an argument.

Bonus Tip: The SAT is good for students who are not fast readers but can read between the lines and find tricky questions.

Test Sections Broken Down

Reading 4 passages

35 min.

40 questions

5 passages

65 minutes

52 questions

English (ACT) Writing/Language (SAT) 45 minutes

75 questions

35 minutes

44 questions

Math 60 minutes

60 questions

80 minutes

58 questions

Science 35 minutes

40 questions

Essay 40 minutes 50 minutes
Total Time (not including breaks) 2 hours  55 minutes

3 hours 40 minutes (w/ essay)

3 hours

3 hours 50 minutes (w/ essay)

Did You Know? Some higher education institutions wave classes based on standardized test scores. For example, if you score high in English, your freshman level English requirement may be waived due to you proving you have already mastered the requirements.

Costs of Exams

No Essay $42.50 $45.00
With Essay $58.50 $57.00
Late Fees $27.50 $28.00
Standby Fees $51.00 $46.00

(outside of the USA/Canada)

$51.00 $35.00-$53.00
Test Date or Center Change $25.00 $28.00
Additional Score Reports $12.00                   $12.00

Bonus Tip: Both tests have fee waivers available through your counseling office. If the costs are a burden to you and your family, visit with your counselor. Cost should not keep you from reaching your dream of attending a postsecondary institution.

Utilize the Academics and Testing section of your ScholarPrep Organizer to plan out your testing dates, record scores, and get organized for the college entry requirement. It’s always best to get all your ducks in a row and plan ahead of time! The exams will take an entire Saturday morning, so make sure you don’t have any conflicts when you sign up.

Do you have a game plan when it comes to the SAT or ACT? Have you written all the registration deadlines and tests dates down? Which test do you prefer? Tell us which one(s) you’re signed up for this year!