The SAT is divided into ten sections which include: 3 Critical Reading, 3 Math, 3 Writing, and 1 experimental section which is not scored.
Each section is scored from 200-800 points.
There is one required essay which is scored on a 0-12 scale.
Actual testing time without any breaks is 3 hours and 45 minutes. A perfect score on the SAT is a 2400.
The ACT is divided into four sections which include English, Math, Reading, and Science. Each section is scored on a scale, from lowest to highest, 1-36. Your composite score is the average from each of the four sections.
There is an optional essay that is scored on a 0-12 scale.
Actual testing time without any breaks is 3 hours and 25 minutes, not including the essay. A perfect score on the ACT is a 36.
The SAT has a guessing penalty. For every answer that is marked wrong, ¼ point is subtracted from your raw score. The SAT made it this way so that all you lucky guessers out there cannot be awarded.
However, the ACT does not penalize for wrong answers. So rather than leaving your answers blank during the SAT, on the ACT you can bubble in every single answer without any added penalty.
The essay for the SAT is required, and you are allowed 25 minutes. It is scored on a scale of 0-12, and is factored into your overall score. The essay presents a broad issue in which you are to pick a side and support your argument using examples from history, literature, and/or current events.
A big difference here is that the essay on the ACT is optional, although more and more colleges are starting to require it. It is also scored on a 0-12 scale, but it is not included in your composite score. This essay will give you two different perspectives on a particularly controversial issue. You may choose to support one of these perspectives, or you can develop a response based on your own perspective.
VOCABULARY & SCIENCE
The SAT verbal section places much more emphasis on vocabulary as opposed to the ACT english section. So if you are good at memorizing vocabulary words, the SAT may be better for you.
The ACT does not place as much emphasis on memorizing a list of vocaublary words. But it does have a section that the SAT does not have, and that is the science section. This covers areas such as chemistry, biology, physics, and also earth science. The good thing about the ACT science section is that it does not necessarily require previous knowledge from your science classes. It simply tests your ability to read and understand graphs, scientific hypotheses, and research summaries. Statistically, those who do well with critical reading often do well on the ACT science reasoning test.
Most of the time, either exam is acceptable for college. But some colleges have their own specific preferences as to which exam they favor. When doing your college research, find out which schools prefer which exam. You can also check to find out the SAT and ACT scores that are required for admissions so that you have an idea as to which score you need to be shooting for.