Comparing the SAT and ACT Exams for Students Attending Online High Schools

Written by James Madison High School on Thursday, 03 December 2015. Posted in Study Tips

Comparing the SAT and ACT Exams for Students Attending Online High Schools

Both the SAT and ACT tests play an important role in college acceptance. We recently highlighted each test individually to try and demystify the SATs and the ACTs, and now here is a comparison of the two exams to help students decide which they need to take before applying to colleges.

Although both the SAT and the ACT exams are important reflections of a student's academic success, there are significant differences. Understanding the similarities and differences between the tests is the best way for students at online high schools to decide which tests to take.

Test Format

While the SAT tests a student's ability to reason, the ACT is a content-based exam. Each test is formatted differently. The time required to complete each test also varies. Students should expect to take about 3 hours and 45 minutes to finish the SAT and 3 ½ hours to finish the ACT with writing, not including breaks.

Subject # of Sections Time Per Section
Critical Reading 2 25 min.
Math 2
25 min.
20 min.
Writing (essay) 1 25 min.
Writing 1
25 min.
10 min.
Subject # of Questions Time
English 75 45 min.
Mathematics 60 60 min.
Reading 40 35 min.
Science 40 35 min.
Writing (optional) Essay 40 min.


Because the SAT and ACT exams test students on different skill sets, it's helpful to be aware of the differences before choosing which exam to take. Generally, students who are good at problem-solving and have strong vocabularies will do well on the SAT. The SAT is also broken up into more sections. On the other hand, students who excel at math and science may perform better on the ACT. The ACT has more advanced math concepts, but many students find the questions to be more straight-forward.

Critical Reading Comprehension and vocabulary
Math Arithmetic operations, algebra, geometry, statistics, and probability
Writing Grammar and other writing skills
English Usage/Mechanics (punctuation, grammar and usage, sentence structure); Rhetorical skills (strategy, organization, style)
Math Reasoning skills, basic formulas, computational skills, *may use calculator
Reading Comprehension
Science Interpretation, analysis, evaluation, reasoning, problem-solving skills in natural sciences
Writing (optional) Skills emphasized in high school English and entry-level composition courses.


Part of standardized test preparation is learning how the test will be scored. For instance, when taking the SAT it's better to leave answers blank if unsure of the answer but on the ACT an "educated guess" may increase the final score.

Is there a penalty for incorrect answers? Yes, student loses ¼ point for each wrong answer No
How are tests scored? Score range for Math, Critical Reading, and Writing: 200-800
Total Score: 600-2400
Score range for English, Math, Reading, and Science: 1-36
Total Score: 1-36 (avg. of four sections)
Can students choose which set of scores to send to schools? Yes Yes


Both the SAT and the ACT are offered multiple times a year, making it possible for students to retest if they want to try and improve their score. Students at online high schools should make note of registration deadlines and fees. Before scheduling, take a look through Magoosh’s best ACT and SAT test dates for deadline considerations, planning strategies, and study tips.

How often is the test offered? 7x a year: January, March, May, June, October, November, December 6x a year: January, March, May, August, September, November
When is the registration deadline? Approximately four weeks prior to testing date Approximately five weeks prior to testing date
What is the cost? $54.50 With writing option: $56.50
Without writing option: $39.50

Standardized test scores can be a significant factor in the college application and admissions process. Students attending online high schools should begin preparing as far in advance as possible. For any additional questions about the SAT or ACT, students can visit their websites.

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James Madison High School

James Madison High School

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