College + Career Center Blog: ACT or SAT? Here’s what you need to know.

August 11, 2021

Making decisions about, signing up for, and preparing to take the ACT and/or the SAT can be a stressful process. Let the College + Career Center help make it a little bit easier for you with some key information! You can also always request an appointment with your school counselor to go over this information in detail. 

What are the ACT and SAT? The ACT and SAT are both achievement tests used to determine college readiness. They are competing products that do essentially the same job, like Coke and Pepsi. However, like Coke and Pepsi, many people have BIG feelings about which is better - the ACT or the SAT!

Which one should I take? Experts agree that neither the ACT or the SAT is “easier”. Some sources report that the ACT emphasizes verbal skills more and the SAT emphasizes math skills, so students who are stronger in one area than the other may find they score higher on one than the other. The only way to know for sure is to take a full-length practice test of both the ACT and SAT and see for yourself!

Here are some other ways the tests are different and similar:


Factor ACT SAT
Time 2 hours, 55 minutes 3 hours
Length 215 questions 154 questions
Sections: Reading 4 passages 5 passages
Sections: Science 1 science section testing your critical thinking skills (not your specific science knowledge) none
Sections: Math Covers:
ArithmeticAlgebra I & IIGeometry, Trigonometry and Data Analysis*some questions do not allow use of a calculator
ArithmeticAlgebra I & IIGeometry, Trigonometry, and Probability & Statistics*all questions allow use of a calculator
Sections: Writing Optional: will test how well you evaluate & analyze complex issues none
Scores Score range: 1-36

There is no point deduction for wrong answers on the ACT.

Score range: 400-1600

Skipped or wrong questions do not add or subtract from your raw score.

Cost $67 $55



When you are deciding which test to take or whether to take an achievement test at all, it’s important to know the admissions requirements of the colleges & universities to which you are applying.  You can look at admissions webpages to determine whether the institution requires a specific test or any test at all, or many websites have compiled lists of schools that are test optional. Here is an example:

The rule of thumb for test-optional schools is this: if your achievement test score helps you, then you should submit it. If it won’t, then don’t! To determine if your test score will help you, find out the average score or the middle 50% score range. If your score is at or above average or on the higher end of that mid 50% score range, it’s a good bet that your test score will help you!

For example, if you are interested in the University of Dayton, the College Board’s college search tool ( lets you compare your test scores to the mid range test scores admitted to the school last year. 

ACT Mid-Range Test Scores

You can see in this screenshot that 50% of students who were admitted to UD last year had between a 24-29 composite score on the ACT. If that is similar to you, then it makes sense to submit your test scores!

At a test-blind school, the institution will not consider your test scores as part of your application regardless of whether you send them. If you end up selecting a test-optional school where you did not send your test scores or a test blind school to attend, be prepared to take a placement test before your freshman orientation so that the school knows where to place you in math and English courses!

Signing up for the ACT or the SAT

To register for the ACT, go to You will need about 45 minutes to complete registration, details about the classes you have taken in high school, a picture of your face or the ability to take a picture of your face to upload, and you will need a credit or debit card or a fee waiver (more on fee waivers soon) to pay. 

  • The next open ACT is taking place on October 23. The deadline to register for this test is September 17.

To register for the SAT, go to You will need about 30 minutes to complete registration and a credit or debit card or a fee waiver.

  • The next open SAT is October 2. The deadline to register for this test is September 3.
More on Fee Waivers!

Some families may qualify to take achievement tests for free. Students are eligible for free waivers if they meet one or more of the following criteria:

  • You are in 11th or 12th grade.
  • You're enrolled in or eligible to participate in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).
  • Your annual family income falls within the Income Eligibility Guidelines set by the USDA Food and Nutrition Service.
  • You're enrolled in a federal, state, or local program that aids students from low-income families (e.g., Federal TRIO programs such as Upward Bound).
  • Your family receives public assistance.
  • You live in federally subsidized public housing or a foster home or are homeless.
  • You are a ward of the state or an orphan.

Students can get up to two waivers to take the SAT and up to four waivers to take the ACT! Fee waivers are available through the College + Career Center. Families need to ensure that their free and reduced lunch and other income information is up to date with the school so that counselors can quickly verify that students qualify.

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