3 Differences Between the ACT English and SAT Writing

When deciding whether to register for the ACT or SAT, high school students should choose the test that plays to their strengths. Understanding the differences between the ACT English section and the SAT Writing and Language section – both of which test a student’s ability to understand and improve written passages – is key to making an informed decision.


Here are three differences between the two tests for students to consider.


1.Number of questions and time allotted per question. One of the greatest differences between the ACT English and the SAT Writing and Language sections is that the former contains many more questions. The ACT English section requires students to answer 75 questions in 45 minutes, which provides students with 36 seconds per question. Contrast this with the SAT Writing and Language section: It contains 44 questions to be answered in 35 minutes, which equates to roughly 48 seconds per question. Students should not interpret this difference as an indicator that the SAT Writing and Language section is easier. Test-takers are expected to work through the ACT English section more quickly because some ACT English questions are more straightforward than their SAT counterparts. If you are the type of student who has strong English skills but is prone to overthinking, the ACT, with its tighter time frame, may be the right assessment for you. On the other hand, if you enjoy dissecting and contemplating test questions on a deeper level, you might perform better on the SAT.



2.Number of reading passages. The ACT English section requires test-takers to read and comprehend five passages, while the SAT Writing and Language portion asks students to assess four passages.  The difference in the number of passages on the ACT and SAT reveals the types of reading styles students may need to have to succeed on each exam.The ACT benefits students who can read rapidly and efficiently – more passages means more information to review and analyze. Meanwhile, the SAT benefits students who prefer to work more slowly but also more analytically. However, it is important to note that the ACT English section is not devoid of analysis. Consider what type of reader you are before deciding on the ACT or the SAT.



3.Presence of charts, graphs and tables. Another noteworthy difference is that the SAT Writing and Language section includes several graphics that supplement the passages in some way.These graphics may contain numbers, but they do not require students to perform calculations. Therefore, students should not assume that the SAT Writing and Language portion is best suited for mathematically inclined test-takers. What is true, however, is that students who can make sense of simple graphical representations may perform better on the SAT Writing and Language section. Questions related to charts, graphs and tables prompt students to identify patterns and trends, and to reach a general conclusion based on the data represented.


The ACT and the SAT differ in significant ways, especially in their respective language sections. Before you sign up for either college entrance exam, it is crucial to think about what kind of learner and test-taker you are. Considering the pace you work at, your reading tendencies and your comfort level with graphics can help you decide on the most appropriate assessment for you.